Why don't I feel joyful about the holidays? These three reasons.
It's mid November—Halloween's over! So, you're probably hearing holiday music and seeing festive decorations in every store you visit. Ahh, the sights, sounds and smells of the holidays: turkey and dressing with cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, peppermint coffee drinks, evergreen scents, twinkling lights, special gifts ... fond memories of happiness are evoked by these images for many of us. We think of loving family gatherings, feasting on delicious holiday specialties, sharing in special traditions and celebrations which have been passed down for years. Everyone is happy to be together, feeling calm, peaceful and thankful for so many joyous blessings. For most Americans mid-November through the first week of January is a busy and festive time.
Some of us aren't feeling it, though. I often hear people say that the holidays are a tough time. There can be many reasons for this, some of which I'm highlighting below. Look for my follow up article on strategies for surviving the holidays!
So why are some of us feeling depressed or anxious about the holidays?
1. Someone important isn't there to celebrate with you—or you're away from the people you love.
Gathering around the holiday table feels different when it's the first celebration following the loss of someone who is special to you. I was in my early twenties when a friend died suddenly, only one week before Christmas—a holiday I usually celebrated with great joy and anticipation. That year it just didn't feel right. I felt it was impossible to enjoy Christmas as usual when something so horrible had happened and I couldn't even think of giving or receiving gifts. While I spent time with family and participated in our usual traditions, I felt like I was just going through the motions.
The first Thanksgiving after a divorce, when the kids are with your ex-spouse or the celebration has changed because children's time is divided between both households, can be very difficult. Feelings of sadness and loneliness can creep in if you are spending Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa away from a deployed spouse, or when you're the one who can't be home because of work. Someone has to work at hospitals, fire stations, police stations, military bases and stores that are open 24/7, even on important holidays. This can put a damper on the fun for the worker and the family at home.
2. Trying to meet societal expectations is putting financial and emotional strain on you.
In our culture there is a lot of work that goes into having a proper holiday celebration (by many people's standards). It can be costly—not to mention time consuming—to decorate your home just so. Then there are the expenses of sending out greeting cards, purchasing food for holiday meals serving large groups of people, attending parties and buying gifts for all those special people in your life. Many of the festivities will include alcohol, which is also costly, especially when serving a crowd.
Traveling to visit family during the holidays means spending money for gas and vehicle maintenance—or airfare—plus hotel stays, meals away from home and time off work. By the same token, hosting people during the holidays is expensive, between the extra mouths to feed and the additional electricity and water consumption when the number of showers per day at your house triples. All of these expenses, on top of paying the usual monthly bills, can add stress and anxiety for anyone! More and more I hear people say that the commercialization of the holiday season, beginning with store displays as soon as Halloween is over, takes away much of the fun and interferes with their holiday spirit.
Gift giving is a holiday tradition which can cause families an immense amount of stress. While our country continues to recover from the economic downturn over the last several years, many people have little, if any, extra money to spend after paying their monthly bills. Pressure to give children wonderful holiday memories makes many parents feel that they must shower their kids with expensive gifts—especially if the parents are trying to give their children a better childhood than the parents had growing up. Even if the family is in no position to provide expensive gifts to the children, parents may feel shame and guilt about their financial situation and children may feel ashamed of their gifts when they compare notes with their peers.
3. Strained family relationships leave you dreading togetherness.
Let's face it, not every family enjoys spending time together. When gathering with extended family, unspoken issues can be the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. Parents and adult children may have different expectations of the time spent together on holiday visits. Some family members may be determined to maintain the image of "one big happy family," while others are hoping for the opportunity to air their grievances. Longstanding jealousy and resentment between siblings may bubble to the surface after a few glasses of holiday cheer. We may subconsciously dread the planned family time, even while part of us hopes this time will be different. Sometimes overwhelming emotions can sneak up on us.
Our culture's emphasis on holiday celebrations as a time for family togetherness leaves some of us feeling disappointment and grieving the family we wish we had. Stay tuned for my next article, in which I'll share some tips for surviving the holidays! In the meantime, if you are dreading the holidays, you're not alone. If you'd like some help coping with your feelings give me a call at (443) 510-1048 or visit my website!