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Not So Jolly On Long Island: How To Bring Joy Back To The Holidays

Illuminated white candle sitting on ice
Image credit: photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash.

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For some people the holidays are magical, joyful, and something to look forward to, however for others, the holidays may be filled with sadness, stress, and dread. But, while there are many stressors on us during this season, we can find ways to bring joy back into our lives. Listed below are some of the most common concerns, and some tips for finding a way past them.

Thoughts Of Grief

The holidays may bring up grief, especially if this is the first Hanukah or Christmas without a loved one who has passed.

Tips For Handling Memories Of Grief

  • Try getting away for the holiday or do something special. A change of scene might open up space for new memories.
  • Focus on remembering the good times you had with the loved one, perhaps doing activities that they always liked to do. However, this does not negate the pain or loss you are experiencing, and if it is too painful to do those activities, then honor where you are and don’t force it.
  • Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions arise, even if you don’t think they are particularly “holiday-like”. Grief manifests in many different ways, and wherever you are in that moment is perfectly okay.

Family Dramas

Some of our families of origin are a bit dysfunctional. We may have painful memories from childhood that we haven’t worked through yet. We might feel criticized or placed back into childhood roles. Or, sometimes, just having extended periods of time with family can add to stress levels. 

Tips For Coping With Family Memories We Might Prefer To Forget 

  • Call a friend if it is too stressful, or get out and go for a walk (alone).
  • Know your (and your family’s) triggers. If alcohol is overused, or leads to tension, limit your own consumption.
  • You may want to consider keeping some of your opinions to yourself. While it is important to stand up for our beliefs, sometimes it might be better to ask ourselves, do my very Christian parents need to know that I am living with my girlfriend? Or do my Orthodox parents need to know that I think it’s perfectly acceptable to not keep kosher? Not everything needs to be voiced. (though a direct question can receive a direct answer!) I encourage you not to use holidays as the time to blame or get others to explain current or past behavior.
  • Know your own limits. It’s okay to limit time to one day or one hour with family or family members – and stay firm even in the face of guilt.

Season No Longer Seems Magical Or Special 

We might be focusing on our happy memories from childhood, making today’s holidays no longer seem quite so magical. For many of us, it might seem like the holidays are only a source of stress – going from here to there, from a Christmas recital to a dinner to another party. We can’t seem to remember the last time we felt like the holidays were really “special”.

Tips For Bringing About A New Way To Look At The Same Things, Yet Perceive A Different Picture

It’s all about awakening that inner child. You can create new memories, even as an adult.

  • If you don’t have children, recruit a niece, neighbor, or friend to make a craft with you for the holidays.
  • What do you most fondly remember? Was it ice-skating? Take a friend today! Or was it going to see the lights? All of these things are opportunities to see joy in your current lives. We can never return to the past, but this is a good chance to see our adult lives filled with simple joy, too.
  • Spend more time outdoors with family or friends.
  • Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD from counsels that “For uncomplicated holiday blues, improvement may be found by finding ways to reduce the stresses associated with the holiday, either by limiting commitments and outside activities, or by making arrangements to share family responsibilities...” 

Gift-Giving Madness

The holidays can also seem especially stressful because of gifts. We feel like we have one month to get that magical shopping done. We might not even really have the money to spend, or we might just be overwhelmed from the sheer commercialism of it all (hello, Charlie Brown!). Either way, there are ways to tame the dreaded gifts.

Tips For Redefining What A Gift Means

  • Try a “home-made” or “gently used” Christmas with family – everyone can make something for others or buy something from second hand stores. See some of the great DIY websites out there for ideas.
  • Secret Santa for siblings: not everyone needs to buy everyone else a present in an extended family.

Loneliness In The Holidays

If someone doesn’t have a particularly close family, or family lives too far away, holidays can be a very lonely time. We might feel as if it’s too hard to reach out to others, that they might be busy during this time. But perhaps they are feeling the same way, too.

Tips To Help You Not Feel Lonely During The Holiday Season

  • Are there other people that we can connect with and celebrate with in some important way?
  • Can we establish some traditions with others that can be fresh and fun and joyful?
  • Find a “created” family to feel comfortable with. Invite others who are alone or away from family over for meals.
  • Find an organization or place that needs help over the holidays. Soup kitchens, Meals on Wheels, and local homeless shelters, all still need help at all times of the year. This is a great time to show kids what the holidays are about, too.  

Comparison Holidays: I’m Having The Best Holiday Ever, Aren’t’ You?

We also might start to compare ourselves to others during this time. When we see a friend or someone they see in the mall who seems really happy or celebratory, it can make us question “why aren’t I just as happy about the holidays?”

When we see all of the decorations, photo cards, and posts about the perfect cookies on Facebook, it might seem as if we are just not quite living up to the holiday spirit. But really, who is asking that question? The only person who is missing out on the holidays in those comparisons is you.

One way to leave the comparisons behind is to spend some time reflecting on what you truly want your holidays to be about. 

For people who are spiritual this could be a way to connect spiritually to others. Or would you prefer the holidays to be a time for self reflection, service and giving back to the community?

Or perhaps it is to spend more time with family, to slow down during winter and take a break? Whatever it means for you – only you can decide, but once you acknowledge what you most want, then spend some time creating that for the holidays.

If you feel especially stressed, lonely, or anxious during this holiday season, the option of seeking out additional help is always available. A psychotherapist can help you work through the thoughts that may trigger our emotions, helping to create a more joyful and exuberant you. At Nassau Guidance, we have worked with families and people from all walks of life, in any season, and welcome everyone with open arms.

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