How to Stay Hopeful During the Stressful Holiday Season

Some people love the holiday season. For some people, it’s an extremely stressful time. For many, like me, it’s both. In a bubble, I love the holidays, especially Christmas. I love everything about it – the sites (lights), the sounds (carols, Christmas music, bells), the smells (holiday cookies). I love spending time with loved ones, exchanging gifts – not because I love getting stuff, but because I just love the whole idea of offering to another, of exchanging.  Christmas to me is the ultimate time of hope. I’m not sure why – I can just feel it. I’m like a kid eternally riding the Polar Express, anticipating its arrival at the north pole. But it’s also a time of stress.

In the bottom right, our dog Grace, waiting (a week early) for Santa Paws. (Note: please ignore the mess that is my home).

First off, when you deal with depression and anxiety, the continual month long holiday party that is the month of December can be draining. One can only go to so many social gatherings that make them feel awkward and anxious, pretending all is great while secretly holding back tears, feeling alone and lonely in a room full of people, so many times. It’s not that I don’t enjoy holiday parties, because I do. It’s that I only enjoy a limited number of them, with a limited number of people, a limited number of times. Secondly, when you battle illnesses that heighten sensory perception (migraines, anxiety, and many others), the sights and sounds and smells and especially the crowds can go from merry to debilitating in a short amount of time. Additionally, all of the focus on “togetherness” of the holidays can be particularly difficult for people who often feel alone and isolated because of their illness (there’s possibly nothing lonelier than feeling completely alone and isolated in a room full of people, especially people you know, who are all enjoying themselves and expecting you to). It can also be difficult for those who have lost loved ones, especially if they’ve lost them around this time of year in the past.

So with all of this conflicting emotion, how can one stay hopeful during the holidays? I don’t have all the answers, of course, but I do have some suggestions that I hope might help.

  • Remember that the holidays are a time of giving and kindness. And that includes you too. It’s easy to forget that you, also, deserve generosity and kindness. Be gentle with yourself. Remind yourself that this is a stressful time of year, and that you’re doing the best you can. And give yourself breaks. Actual ones (rest and recuperation are key), but also mental and emotional ones. You’re human. The best you is the best you can do.
  • Take time for something that’s really important to you. I’ve bolded the word intentionally. This means really for you. Not, “This is important to my boss or my kids or my significant other and I don’t want them to be mad – them not being mad at me is important to me.” No, that’s for them. Now, if what you really love to do is go hiking with your spouse, then do so. And if your spouse enjoys hiking too, great. But make sure it’s something you truly want to do. Finding time for things that bring us joy offers hope that we can get through the stress, and still find some happy moments.
  • When conflict arises, focus on finding solutions that give a little to everyone. Let’s face it, family and interpersonal dynamics at the holidays can be stressful. Everyone has their own ways of doing things, their own traditions, their own views on things. Work together to find solutions that bring a piece of everyone’s traditions/ways/viewpoints (assuming they aren’t actively harming someone else). All  have some say, no one has all the say. Remember, it’s a season of giving, of kindness, of hope, of joy. If everyone tries to offer these to each other when conflict arises, nobody feels completely unheard. Managing conflict in stressful, and making sure everyone feels like they’re being given some kindness and understanding definitely gives me hope. You might even start some new traditions.
  • When it’s tough to find hope in the bigger events of the season, see if you can find hope in the smaller moments. For me, that’s often a warm cup of coffee and writing on a cold morning. It’s coming into the house to see our Christmas tree lit up. It’s hearing my favorite Christmas song. It’s seeing people give, donate, volunteer, help each other, even in the tiniest ways.
  • Get back to basics. The last time you really enjoyed the holidays, what was it about them that gave you joy and hope?  Was it spending time with loved ones? Was it certain traditions? Was it the feeling of hopefulness and expectation you felt as a kid? Is it something rooted in your faith or beliefs? Whatever it is, can you find a way to reconnect with that again? It might not be exactly the same, but perhaps connecting with it in a way, and bridging the past joy with the present, will provide a way to reconnect with hope and joy.
  • When all else fails, remember that it’s called a holiday season for a reason. It passes, and eventually another, hopefully less difficult season, will come. You’ve gotten through it before, and you will get through it again.

Do you have some favorite ways for bringing hope into the holidays?

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