Ho Ho Hum - when the holidays feel more burden than blessing

What do you do when instead of HO HO HO, you just want to say HO HO HUM?

I'm really trying to feel festive.  I've downloaded multiple Christmas and holiday Spotify playlists, taken a little drive to see the light displays in my neighborhood, worn my vintage Santa pin, watched a Hallmark holiday movie - nothing's working.

We talk a lot about gratitude around here, and how seeing what you have, rather than what you don't have, can make a world of difference.  And it can. BUT, that doesn't mean we run around laughing and smiling all the time.  In fact, that kind of forced gratitude can be toxic and certainly unsustainable.  I had a chance to talk about this with a new and very dear friend, Kayla, lately.  She writes the Though She Be But Little blog, and she interviewed me (!) for her most recent post.  You can read it here.  One of the things we talked about was how hard it can be to feel grateful when you are angry or depressed or just tired of the way things are.    We’ve both been in that spot and I’m sure you have been, too.

As we come up to the holidays and the end of the year, I want to encourage you to feel all the emotions that surface at this time of the year.  And let’s face it, they aren’t all festive and happy.  Sadness, anger, depression, loneliness, feelings of frustration and abandonment are all common at this time of the year, and this year perhaps those feelings are more amplified and widely felt than ever before. 

So please, I beg of you, don’t stuff those feelings into a box and pretend they don’t exist and force yourself to be happy and grateful.  I can promise you that box is going to fall off the closet shelf when you least expect it and make a big old mess when all those emotions spill out.

Here are some tips for managing the negative emotions. 

  1. Acknowledge how you feel – all the messy, hard things along with all the good things.  And yes, you can feel sad and happy at the same time.  Remembering the good times is one of the ways we move past the sad times. 
  1. Talk about it.  Even if you’re talking to yourself.  Just saying things out loud takes so much of the power out of the emotion, and when that power fizzles out you can start to see the options you have.  Lots of people are feeling just like you feel right now.  You might seek out a Blue Christmas service in your community.  Even if you aren’t religious, there’s something about sitting with a community of people that makes things easier to bear.  
  1. Be realistic about this year. No year is just like the years past.  Trying to hold on to things that just can’t happen this year will create more anxiety and frustration.    
  1. Gifts and spending don’t fill the void. If things are tight financially, or if you just feel like you want to donate to charitable causes this year rather than buy gifts, that’s ok.  My sister-in-law often donates to Heifer International in our name at Christmas.  It’s a great feeling to know someone is getting a flock of chicks or a hive of bees to help support their family.   
  1. Make time for yourself.  Those habits you’ve been working on, like a few minutes of meditation, or taking time for a bath or a few moments sitting quietly with a candle and some music, are more important than ever.   Taking time to re-group is how we replenish ourselves so we can keep going.  It’s not selfish, it’s just common sense.  

And finally, remember that action is more powerful than thinking.  All those self-care activities?  One of the reasons they are so important is because they provide a moment to stop thinking about the negative things and focus on a positive experience.  Do something for yourself, and then do something, even if it seems small, for someone else.  Hang the wreath so the neighbors can see it and smile, donate canned goods to the food bank, take a walk with your kids and admire the goofy holiday blow ups. I’ve actually seen several Christmas unicorn blow-ups this year.  Who knew? Call a friend, send a card, wave at the delivery people, say thank you to the grocery clerk or bus driver or teacher who keeps on showing up. 

You may not feel giddy with Christmas cheer, but sometimes a gentle warm glow is just fine.


Additional  resources you may find helpful

Find a playlist – Spotify has the usual Christmas playlists, but there’s also mariachi, rockabilly, reggae and emo playlists.  A personal favorite, Christmas Funny, Humorous, Weird and Silly Song -- nothing explicit..  And if you have never heard, or sung along to, Dominick the Donkey (and you probably have not if you aren’t from New Jersey) then you really need to give it a listen.  But if you don’t want to hear it a LOT then you should keep it from your children.

 https://thehealthsessions.com/practice-gratitude/  A very practical list of ways to find gratitude, written by a psychologist who has a chronic illness and wants to help people live the best life they can while managing their own illnesses.  But trust me – the ideas work for everyone.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20047544  A very helpful guide from the experts at Mayo Clinic on coping with anxiety and depression during the holidays.

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