For many people the holidays are happy times – family gathered around the table to dine and spread good cheer; presents to buy, wrap and open; bellies full of delicious dinners; and a chance to catch up with friends and colleagues. The anticipation of the holidays and the reality of the holidays are positive experiences and memories to carry for years to come.
But for many, many people dysfunction in the family, financial difficulties, fighting with friends, job loss, grief and loneliness can mean the holidays are a time of dread and negativity. It is as if the time from late November to early January when holidays are celebrated looms darkly and time marches slowly forward, leaving the person trying to ward off the emotional blows by hiding, engaging in destructive behaviors such as drinking or drugs, separating themselves from any activities that might include other people, and overeating or watching too many bad television shows.
Telling someone to "just be happy" during the holidays is counter-productive. When someone is negative and grief-filled, for whatever reason, they often can't just shake it off and become happier in the face of their pain. So for some, simply ignoring the dates and soldiering through the 6- to 8-week period to wake up on January 2nd after it is all over, might seem like the only reasonable solution.
If the holidays are not happy days for you, or for someone you care about, this may be the year to make some changes and decide that you aren't going to lose 6 to 8 weeks of your life just trying to get through. The holidays don't define you and they don't dictate how your life should be lived. They are dates on a calendar, which people have come to associate with experiences both good and bad, and no more than that, if you determine to treat them differently.
This year, consider whether you could:
- Find something you are passionate about for volunteering. There are few things that take anyone's mind off their own troubles faster than seeing the trouble someone else has experienced. Many people have lost everything they own to hurricanes, raging wildfires, or economic distress. Some have lost loved ones in shootings or to disease. You don't have to look too far to find people who are in desperate need. You might be one of these people, but if you are not, could you find an organization working to help them? Could you volunteer your time and talent to pack goods to be shipped, or serve a meal at a homeless shelter, or collect blankets and clothing for those who have nothing? Lending a helping hand to someone less fortunate than yourself is not only a nice thing to do; it could also lift your own spirits and give you a sense of purpose during the holidays.
- Visit children in the hospital, or a nursing home, or elderly shut-ins. If you are able to get outside, you might take for granted that you are able to do so. Visiting those who are confined in some way and may be physically unable to get out is another reminder of the gifts you have and can give that cost nothing but your time. You might strike up a lasting relationship, or you might just spend an afternoon making someone's day a little brighter.
- Walk a dog at the local shelter, or hold the cats and kittens, bunnies, or guinea pigs who are stuck there waiting for their forever homes. If you can be around animals, there are so many waiting patiently in shelters for someone to come and take them home. While they wait they are scared, lonely and depressed, sitting in cages with no stimulation. Many shelters don't have enough volunteers for the animals to get the attention they need to stay socialized and calm. A calmer, happier animal always shows better when a potential adopter comes to the shelter to visit them! The unconditional love of an animal is often a great salve for a hurting human soul, too.
- Plan something that's fun for you. Do you enjoy getting outside and being in nature? Is there a great TV series you have been wanting to binge watch? Are there old movies you have wanted to revive? Is there a friend from afar you haven't talked to in a while who always lifts your spirits? Do you enjoy crafts or reading? Plan your day for the holiday itself, and any surrounding days where you might feel sad or down. Be ready with your plan to do something that fills you with joy. Be sure it is uplifting and not self-destructive – it should be a healthy and safe outlet. The important thing is to plan in advance and be ready, so you aren't waking up wondering what to do with yourself.
- Consider that the holidays might be the right time to readjust some of your relationships. Are there people you have become disconnected from over time? Is there someone you need to build a bridge back to again or someone you need to forgive? The holidays can be a time of renewal, and you always have the choice to take a different approach with broken relationships. Don't put yourself in personal jeopardy and return to an abusive relationship, or one where you are demeaned emotionally, but if you have had a healthy relationship that somehow has gone awry, this holiday season might be the time to reconnect.
Whatever you decide to do, do something. The beauty of the holidays is that they are predictable – you know when Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and the like will fall. It isn't a surprise, so you can prep for them and determine what's best for you. Don't hide under the covers this year and wait for them to pass – be proactive and decide you won't let the holidays leave you focusing only on January 2nd.