For many, and according to most holiday TV shows, the holidays are a time for amusing conflicts with family and then Christmas reconciliations where you find the meaning and spirit of the season. Sure, you might have been left behind while your family went to Paris, but you discovered something about independence and love of your family, Kevin. You’ll need it in the sequel when you meet the future president (and only “Home Alone” cast member to be impeached, so far).
That isn’t what many feel during the holidays. For some, it is incredibly isolating. They are estranged from their families. For others, it is a time to remember past family outbursts and clashes because, of course, someone had to ruin Christmas dinner. Others have experienced tremendous loss during the year, and the holidays accentuate that loss. In short, while many thrive during this time of year, others do not. And cannot.
According to WedMD, holiday stress is attributable to: “Stress, Fatigue, Unrealistic expectations, Over-commercialization, Financial stress, the inability to be with one’s family and friends.” I would add to that the following: Expectations of others, and, often, being with those same family and friends. You can feel alone, even in a room full of people because, let’s face it, often times those who we love are those that stress us out the most.
I’m no stranger to having holidays ruined. I remember one fine Christmas someone hit a baby. Another, someone decided to start an argument. One year, I was the culprit by taking the bait. It makes one want to change things up, to do something different, to break free. But it can also cause bad behaviors, such as overeating, drinking one’s self free of the pain, or letting others control your thoughts and emotions to the point where you literally make yourself sick from stress.
As Jeena Cho points out, lawyers are more likely to feel depression during the holidays (and more generally) than the population at large. She offers some great advice about being mindful of your thoughts. It’s great advice, and I am tempted to just stop there and refer you to her post. (Seriously, please read it.) But, I have a few things to add from my own experiences:
- If you are an introvert stuck in family gatherings, make time for just yourself. It can feel stifling if you are constantly barraged with people wanting to talk to you. If you need time alone, make sure to seek and demand it. Go for a walk. Take a nap. Use headphones to block out the noise and read. Regardless, it’s important to set time aside so you can recharge. Daily.
- If you are feeling alone, a change of scenery might be necessary. Often, volunteering at a homeless shelter or other charity can trigger compassion that makes you feel more connected to people. It sounds cliché, but helping others is truly a way to help yourself. If possible, also reach out to family or friends. Often times, our (often warped) perception when we are alone and seeking others is that they are too busy, or don’t want to be brought down, and that prevents us from seeking the company we need.
- Set strong limits with people. Unless your family are friends are all empaths, one or more of them probably likes to push buttons. If you have that one family member who likes to talk about something that you find uncomfortable and fails to understand clues such as changing the subject 50 times, then chances are you probably need to “take a phone call” or otherwise excuse yourself. Yelling isn’t a good option here. Often times people push buttons precisely because they want to control your reaction and emotions.
- Practice compassion with yourself and others. Everyone is probably on edge a bit during the holidays. So, be compassionate with yourself. As you strive to assure your own self-care, you might feel that you are being selfish at a time of year designed for outward giving. But, as the Dalai Lama’s translator points out: “[It’s] the whole, ‘put [on] your oxygen mask first before helping others’ approach to self care –- which makes a big difference when you are dealing with the demands of raising children, dealing with a difficult boss, or facing a relationship crisis.”The path to wellness, particularly if recovering from psychological trauma, demands self-care. Those with anxiety, or children of alcoholics, know the stresses of being people-pleasers (even to their own detriment). Sometimes it is helpful to remind yourself you have mental health rights, such as those listed here (e.g., “I I have the right to say no to requests or demands I can’t meet; I have the right to change my mind.”)
- Economize. Holiday traditions can both be comforting and overwhelming. If your usual holiday tradition involves baking 30 types of cookies, you should feel free to limit that if you don’t feel like baking. Perhaps it is a bad example, but it is one from my family. Traditions are meant to offer connections to our family and friends, not to bind. If they feel more like the latter than the former, perhaps it is time to change those traditions.
- Stay in the moment. It can often be daunting meeting the demands of others. Friends texting you — while trying to carry on a conversation you don’t want to have — while you are asked to help with doing this chore — while thinking about stuff you left on the desk at work that … Breathe. Remember that you are human, and that any person worth having in your life will understand when you need to engage in self-care. You can focus on where you are, and what you are doing.
My mind often meanders to the ghosts of Christmas celebrations past. It takes a great deal of effort not to let those ghosts ruin the present. Or, as the Dalai Lama points out, by focusing on the past or the future, our present is robbed. “There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday, and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe and mostly live.”
I wish you and yours a peaceful and joyous holiday season.
If you are struggling, please seek help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a chat option, linked here. The phone number is 1 (800) 273-8255. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, there are options here.
You are not alone.
LawProfBlawg is an anonymous professor at a top 100 law school. You can see more of his musings here. He is way funnier on social media, he claims. Please follow him on Twitter (@lawprofblawg) or Facebook. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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