Managing Your Feelings During The Holidays

December 10, 2012

by Veronica Vaiti, LCSW-R

The holidays are finally here!!! Time to break out your jingle bells and celebrate, right? Not so fast. For many people, instead of looking forward to a big bag of gifts and joy, many experience the holidays as a mixed bag of misery and despair, a syndrome we at NYC Therapy Group refer to as, “holidepression“. We describe Holidepression as a syndrome in which an individual, couple or family experiences one or more of the following feeling states that is triggered by the holiday season: feelings of sadness, shame, hopelessness,  anger, agitation, avoidance, grief and low self-esteem or self-doubt and self-derision.  From our experience,  we’ve observed that most people  who suffer from holidepression fall into one of the three subtypes: Financial, Family Conflict and Grief.

Below is a brief description of the types and two therapeutic suggestions on how to cope within each subtype:

Holidepression: Financial Type:

The act of giving is an act of love and it can be very rewarding  both for the giver and receiver. Yet we are bombarded with advertisements and  messaging that inextricably links the  degree to which we love or like someone to the type of gift we choose to bestow upon them (ie: Tiffany diamond earrings vs. the Target cubic zirconium ones). As such, our self esteem during the holidays is directly related to our financial status and capability to buy the “best”  for our loved ones because when we can please and satisfy our loved ones we feel good about ourselves ; when we displease or disappoint our loved ones, we are down in the dumps.  For many people who are struggling economically, the holiday is a significant reminder of the financial burdens they are enduring. It is a very painful experience to witness others around you shop for goods, while you can barely pay the rent. The associated financial stress during the holidays can place a great burden on families who want to participate in the holiday spirit but simply cannot afford to do so. The Holidepression: Financial type  is often overwhelmed with shame and poor self esteem for not being able to provide and meet the financial demands and expectations of that are sometimes quadrupled during the holiday season.

Therapeutic Suggestions

1. Buck the trend and return to basics – free yourself psychologically from the erroneous thought that material goods are equated  with love.  Love is a feeling state, not a material good. Remind yourself why you feel the way you do towards your loved one and think of alternative ways of expressing your appreciation towards them.

2. Discover some inner creativity – instead of buying a gift, you can make one. Making a gift can be inexpensive and fun not to mention a unique and personal way to show you care. For example, you could make a “coupon book” with coupons that offer “one week off of doing the dishes” or “one free car wash”. Not only is the time and effort were spent creating this and indication of your thoughtfulness but can also be viewed as a labor of love.

3. Be honest – let your loved ones know that  these holiday are financially challenging for you. This will relieve yourself from expectations and fear of disappointing others.

Holidepression: Family Conflict Type:

The experience of gathering with our family and loved ones to celebrate the holiday season can be very rewarding and fulfilling. However, for some people this same experience can be associated with dread and anxiety. Families all have their own unique dynamics and quagmire of roles, alliances, loyalties, comparisons, disappointments, resentments, anger, frustrations and jealousies. Meetings with the family can be a reminder of “how am I doing compared to cousin Bob” and “why did my sister get more gifts then I did” opening the door to deeply seeded family conflict that can date back too early childhood. The holidays are a “perfect” trigger for opening the doors to the unspoken past which are played out in what can be tenuous  holiday settings leading one to feel wanton and feckless in the face of a family gathering.

Therapeutic Suggestions

1. Be aware of the family conflicts that may trigger you.

2. Don’t participate in discussions and situations  that may be difficult for you. Like a good politician skilled and evading tricky questions to return to their message points, outline what you feel you can and cannot discuss and create and practice a tagline that can help you removed yourself from potential potholes. For example, Aunt Betty will always as you, “why are you still single, cant you meet a mate?”, “Gee Aunt Betty, thanks for your concern. Its really nice to see you and everyone tonight, going to go grab some more bean dip now, bye”.

3. Try to view difficult family members as people who are ignorant and suffering themselves

4. Remember that holidays, like a storm always come and go

Holideprssion: Grief Type  

Holidays are automatically associated with family and friends. However for many of us who have lost a loved one either during the holidays or another time of the year, the holiday season can heighten the sense of loss and grief and serve as a strong reminder that our loved ones  are no longer with us. Our  losses can be so painfully experienced during the holidays to a point that celebrating in the absence of a loved one can drudge up a sense of betrayal and guilt towards them, making you question if you’ll ever be able to move on without your loved one.

Therapeutic Suggestions

1. Think of how your loved one would have wanted you to celebrate the holidays and have a discussion with him/her.

2. Dont think that you have moved on without your loved ones,  but rather that your are moving on with your loved one.  Recall and honor how they have impacted your life and look for signs and symbols of their impact playing out in your current life. Imagine them sitting side by side with you

3. Remember that you are allowed to simultaneously grieve and experience fleeting moments of happiness.  Being able to experience and access a vast range of feelings is what it means to be human. In order to live fully, we must be aware and accept the fact that the coin of life has joy on one side and the other side pain, one side is not sold without the other.


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