What If It Isn’t a Happy Holiday? 5 Ways to Take Care of Yourself This Season

Is it a happy holiday?

Sometimes, when discussing a difficult topic, I find that puppies help. So please do enjoy photos of my puppies throughout. This is Bella.

There is currently the yearly battle over whether it’s appropriate to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” raging. But it seems like there’s a part of the narrative that we’re missing: what if, for you, this time of year is neither merry nor happy? What if this time of year brings about an acute sadness or exacerbates an already down mood? There are so many reasons that a person might feel sad this time of year.

As with anything in life, there are both light and shadow aspects, and yet we don’t seem to want to talk about the unhappy holidays. In my therapy practice, this time of year is spent mostly on discussions of family dynamics and grief. Many people talk about feeling as though they revert to being moody teenagers as soon as they enter their parents’ home and they lose themselves. Others have discord in their families of origin that is currently unresolved or is unable to be resolved.

This is Charlie

This is Charlie. The force is strong with him. He mostly uses it for evil (i.e., to get cheesy treats).

Discussions around the dinner table (when not judging other people’s eating habits) is often centered around questions like, “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?” “When are you getting married?” “When are you having children?” “When are you going to have that mole looked at?” These can feed into already salient insecurities and reinforcing that they are not “enough” as they are.

The grief that people discuss is sometimes over the loss of a loved one with whom the holidays can no longer be spent, but other times it is grief of not having the life they feel they “should” have. The holidays are a time inundated with media telling us that we should be happy and that if we aren’t happy, then we’re Grinches. This is just blatantly untrue. And creating this narrative that we don’t talk about the shadow means that we hide it and draw further into ourselves, not seeking support. Whether it’s a lack of material possessions, the lack of a romantic partner, or something else, please know that you’re not alone. If you are going through a difficult time, please reach out to a friend or a mental health practitioner.

Bella gets sad sometimes

Bella gets sad sometimes, like when nobody is posting pictures of her on the Internet.

With all of this in mind, here are five ways you can take care of yourself this holiday season.

1. Hold On to Who You Are

Many of us feel as though we have to be someone we’re not at this time of year—a perfect child, a flawless host, an upbeat lover of the holidays. Whether you’re going home to be with your family of origin, hosting your family of choice, or spending time alone, you still get to be you. Things won’t be perfect because they never are, and you can’t be perfect because there’s no such thing, so embrace what comes.

Charlie likes to be himself

Charlie is always authentically himself. Sometimes “himself” is a brat. We still love him.

2. Give Yourself the Gift of Self-Care

Care for yourself, whatever this means for you. For many of us introverts (that’s me), it means taking a break from festivities to engage in some alone time. Feel free to speak up and say that you can’t make an event if you’re feeling depleted. Even though there might be outside pressure to do all the things!, remember that your enjoyment matters too.

Bella licks her lips

Bella’s self-care is begging for treats.

3. Breathe

Take a moment at least once per day to just focus on your breath. Sound weird? I bet you’ll notice that you’re holding your breath or breathing quick and shallow. If you’re able to take slow, steady breaths, your body will naturally begin to calm, something that we all need every day of the year.

Charlie is taking a breath in these slippers

Charlie is taking a breath in these slippers . . . he loves stinky things.

4. Make Space

If this time of year is difficult for you, then let that be. Allow emotional space for your sadness instead of trying to push it down and put on a happy face. You are allowed to have whatever feelings you’re having.

Charlie needs a break from Mr. Wexler

Charlie needs a break from Mr. Wexler. He likes having friends, but Mr. Wexler takes a lot of emotional (and physical) energy. Mr. Wexler is respecting Charlie’s needs . . . for now.

5. Do Things You Love!

If that means that you aren’t engaging in traditional holiday activities, that’s fine. Maybe you love to do yoga (just me?), play board games, or watch Die Hard (me again) while your loved ones would rather sing songs and bake cookies and do religious-type stuff. This hearkens back to Number 1: “do you” this holiday season. If this is not something you usually do, people might notice and be caught off-guard, but if it makes them uncomfortable, that’s their “stuff,” not yours. You have agency, so create the holiday (or non-holiday) that you want to have.

Charlie and Bella love shared activities

Charlie and Bella love shared activities, including grooming each other and chasing things. Squirrels and flies (shown here) are their favorites.

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