Commercial advertising leads us to believe that the holidays are a time only for merriment and festivity. You may, however, find yourself experiencing more emotional, physical and financial stress than at any other time of the year.
You may simply feel too much pressure conforming to the social norms and expectations of the holiday season while meeting your everyday responsibilities. As we know, it is notoriously a time to spend more, eat and drink more and that, as we know, can have its consequences. The Mayo Clinic recommends that you plan ahead. This can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed and juggling too many things at the last minute. You may also think about starting a family exchange to help you stay on a budget. Also, learn to say no. Saying yes when you mean no can lead to feelings of resentment. Finally, don’t abandon your healthy habits. Overindulgence will leave you feeling guilty and depleted.
For others, though, the holidays can be much more trying when you suffer a job loss, break up with an intimate partner or face the anniversary of a loved one’s passing. Dealing with loss is far more difficult when it seems as though everyone around you is having a good time – that can emphasize what you don’t have and what was taken away from you. As a result, you might feel alienated and even more lonely and depressed.
Losing a loved one can be devastating. The Mayo Clinic points out that it is not realistic for others or yourself to expect you to be upbeat or “act” happy just because it is the holiday season. Take the time you need to allow yourself to feel the range of feelings you may be having. If you are feeling lonely or isolated reach out to family or friends or attend community, religious or other social events. You may also consider joining a bereavement group. Above all, try to remember that grief is truly a process. In Arthur Golden’s words:
“Grief is a most peculiar thing; we’re so helpless in the face of it. It’s like a window that will simply open of its own accord. The room grows cold, and we can do nothing but shiver. But it opens a little less each time, and a little less; and one day we wonder what has become of it.” Memoirs of a Geisha ”
Since our work is often tied to our identity, losing a job can be traumatic. You may want to take some time to yourself to determine if you want to stay in your related field or move into an entirely new area. This could mean developing new skills or going back to school. You might also want to decide how much you want to disclose to others before you come up with a plan. On another note, Julie Walraven of Design Resumes recommends that you use holiday gatherings for networking opportunities to learn about new jobs and connect with people who can help you. In addition, she recommends using the free resources of career professionals on the web. You may also consider investing in expert help to shorten your job search.
Again, plan ahead to prevent accumulated stress, anxiety or depression during the holiday season. Recognize the triggers that can cause you to feel overwhelmed so that you can avoid things from spiraling out control. With some planning you may find the holidays much more doable than what you initially imagined.
In the end, if you find yourself feeling persistently sad, irritable, anxious, hopeless or have problems with sleep or doing routine tasks, this may be the time to speak with your doctor or a mental health professional. You do not have to manage the difficulties you are having on your own – there are a number of treatment options available to help you.
Susan Whedbee is a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst in private practice in NYC