From my files (posted in 2009)
Holidays. Bah Humbug!
by Marianne Clyde, L.M.F.T.
Like the Grinch who stole Christmas, there are things lurking in the dark, waiting to steal your Christmas Joy. The children are out of control; there are childhood expectations of your own that have never been fulfilled; there are gifts to buy and you don’t have the money; cards to write and you have no time; and parties to go to where you don’t even know the people; not to mention that it’s the final quarter of the year and books have to be balanced, sales must be increased. Expectations are high. Nerves are frayed. Oh yeah, and you’re supposed to decorate!
The in-laws plan to come, but your parents are offended because you spend more time with your spouse’s family. Your grown children have lives of their own and all of a sudden they have plans for Christmas Eve. No, they can’t make it for New Year’s Eve either because they have another commitment, but thanks for asking. Then there’s that thoughtful gift your husband is so excited about — a vacuum cleaner! All the while he is not really turned on by the matching blinking bow tie and socks that you would have never even considered buying at any other time of the year. It seemed like a cute idea at the time.
Now on top of all this, add a divorce, a death, an unplanned trip out of town, a kid who gets caught shoplifting. Right about now you are ready to just sleep through the holidays and wish they would just go away.
Depression, stress, anxiety and suicide all increase around the holidays. Is it any wonder? Where is Jesus in the mix? He came to bring peace to all men. Where is your peace? Packed away with last year’s Christmas paper?
Many of us find ourselves asking what is it all about? Why all these traditions? Now that there has been a change in the family structure perhaps, you might not even have your kids for the holidays–or now that Mom has died, Christmas just can’t be the same.
There are many causes for holiday depression. It’s a very real thing; it needs to be recognized and treated before it gets out of hand.
• Are you sleeping too much or too little?
• Are you eating too much or too little?
• Are you having a difficult time making decisions?
• Are you entertaining suicidal thoughts? Maybe thought that you wish you were dead?
• Are you withdrawing from people?
• Are you feeling overwhelming sadness?
• Do you feel shaky and nervous?
• Is your temper short?
• Are you having stomach or digestion problems?
• Are you crying a lot for no apparent reason?
• Is it difficult to get anything done?
• Are you feeling overwhelmed?
Here are some suggestions to take back control of your holidays–and your joy!
1. There is no rule that says you must send out cards. Is there a way you could pare down your list, send them at another time of year (New Year cards perhaps), commit to getting in touch with your friends throughout the year instead of now?
2. Why are you buying all those gifts? To get one back? Out of obligation? Maybe you could suggest drawing names for your family gathering. Maybe each one could be asked to give something homemade this year. Maybe you could have a gift exchange game where everyone brings one gift worth a certain amount of money and you pick numbers: number one choosing the first gift, number two picking a gift from the pile or the gift number 1 chose. Then number 3 picking a gift from the pile or the gift number 1 or 2 chose, etc. until all the gifts are distributed. This can be a lot of fun! Maybe you could be the one to suggest no gifts this year.
3. Decorate simply and modestly, if you feel you must decorate at all. You could make decorating a family project by popping popcorn and string the popcorn with cranberries and have an old fashioned Christmas. Meanwhile play Christmas music, tell Christmas stories or share Christmas memories.
4. Give yourself permission to invite everyone to your house this year so you don’t have to run all over town. Make it a potluck or a combined effort. People usually like to help.
5. Consciously choose the events you will go to. Know why you are going. It’s OK to say no. Even too many good events can get stressful.
6. If you have a new family configuration this year due to a divorce or death or kids leaving home, feel free to develop a new tradition. Traditions are good as long as they serve their purpose. If they are stressing you out, they have outlived their purpose.
7. If you have lost a family member to death, perhaps you could memorialize that person, by going to the hospital and visiting sick patients in their honor. You could hand out small gifts or have the kids decorate cards or ornaments to hand out. Involve the whole family.
8. Bag the tradition all together and serve on a food line for the homeless.
9. Create a family project Instead of giving gifts to one another, buy blankets for the homeless shelters and deliver them, or inexpensive toys and deliver them to a housing project. Most churches have some kind of outreach to the less fortunate at this time of year.
10. Maybe you could rent a cabin in the woods and have a totally relaxing holiday this year. Try something new.
11. If you find yourself alone, create your own family. Many people have families that are too far away and would love somewhere to go.
12. If you know someone else is struggling, ask them to lunch and tell them you care.
13. Take time to assess what you are doing and why. If it doesn’t make sense, consider the whole reason for the season. He gave his life so that we could live abundantly. What would you have to change to feel that you are experiencing the abundant life? Take the first step today. Put the JOY back in your holiday.
Marianne Clyde is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with the Renascence-PIW Clinic in Fairfax, VA. Marianne also has her own radio call-in program, which can be heard daily on WCTN 950AM at 1 PM.
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