Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, the holiday season is officially in full swing. Homes are covered in flashing lights, shops are playing Christmas music, pumpkin scented/flavored products have been swapped out for peppermint ones, and people dressed as Santa are frolicking around at every corner (okay, that last thing may not be a universal occurrence during the holiday season.. But in New York City, there are Santa Clauses everywhere). The air is getting colder, the days are getting shorter, but everyone is too full of pure holiday-induced bliss to care. This is the most wonderful time of the year.
Except for when it’s not.
Listen, I am not bashing the holidays in any way, shape, or form. I am not a Scrooge. I am not going to complain about how the holidays are awful and stressful and blah-blah-blah. I like the holidays… Or at least I want to.
I know that I am not alone in my being in an especially bad place during the holidays. The holiday season is a time of heightened, both good and bad, for almost everyone (who celebrates). But for some, bad feelings are so intense, so all-consuming that they completely overpower and swallow up any joy that may be coming to the surface. What you are left with is total darkness.
The holiday season can be a painful one. When we sit down to Christmas (0r whatever it is that you celebrate) dinner, we are faced with empty chairs where loved ones that are now gone once sat. We remember the way this family member laughed, the amazing stories that they used to tell, or the way that they would always get just a little too-tipsy after dinner and begin to pick fights with anyone and everyone. We remember those famous cookies that a loved one once made, knowing that never again will we be able to enjoy them in the way that we once did. We are forced to come face to face with any fractures in our families, so-and-so isn’t talking to so-and-so so neither of them will be joining us for dinner, uncle something hasn’t spoken to his sister in 15 years and he’s not going to start now, even if it is Christmas time, maybe someone has recently gotten divorced and now must navigate who gets the kids during the holidays and who will be left all alone. It’s hard.
The holiday season can also hurt if you are someone who struggles with any sort of mental illness. As always, I can only speak from my own personal experience, but I know that I am not the only one who feels this way. If you are someone who struggles with anything, whether it be anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, etc. this time of year can throw you into a state of complete and utter dread. Honestly, just being a highly sensitive person (an empath) can lead one into panic when thinking about the upcoming season.
Holidays are hectic, I don’t care who you are, what you celebrate, or where you are. No matter what, you will experience some sort of pandemonium during the holiday season. Traffic is worse, crowds are worse, people are frantic. You are hard pressed to find a single store or public location that is not at least somewhat influenced by the holidays. For someone who struggles with any type of anxiety or panic disorder, this can be a nightmare. The idea alone of going into a crowded grocery store has been enough to leave me shaking and sobbing in my car, too terrified to even get out, let alone step food into the store. Again, I know that I am not alone here. This irrational reaction to what is a (admittedly high-stress) non-threatening situation can cause many who do not understand the diseases of anxiety or panic disorders to roll their eye and write you off as a drama queen. Just suck it up and deal with it. They might say. Just deal with it. You might even be saying these things to yourself.
Listen, I am in no way saying that allowing your anxiety to keep you from accomplishing necessary everyday tasks is the right thing, I’m not even encouraging it. What I am saying is that I understand and empathize with what you are feeling and what you are feeling, though irrational, is completely valid. Each and every feeling that you have is valid, this is an incorruptible truth. I don’t care if you are sobbing over not being able to find a certain dish to eat breakfast off of (I have done this.. often) or something equally as absurd. It is valid. Each and everything that you have ever thought or felt that has caused you any type of real emotion has been valid…
Even during the holidays.
If you are someone who struggles during the holidays, it can be so easy to beat yourself up over it.
What is wrong with me? This is supposed to be the happiest time of the year. Am I really so deeply and fundamentally flawed that I can’t even get my s**t together for a couple of hours to go to this party and pretend I’m happy? Everyone else is so happy and I’m not and that is so selfish!
I could go on.
When you are looking around you and seeing nothing but green-and-red-clad-bliss, it can be easy to feel like a complete failure as a human being if you are struggling.
It is okay. You are okay.
Here’s the thing – this is supposed to be the season of giving. We give gifts and time and love to all of the special people in our lives. But what about ourselves? Do we give anything to ourselves? I’m going to bet that most of us don’t.
So why don’t we try to reclaim this idea of it being the season of giving and truly make an effort to give to ourselves. Why don’t we try to give ourselves compassion? Why don’t we try to be especially gentle with ourselves? Why don’t we, instead of making only monetary investments in gifts for others, make spiritual (or emotional) investments in ourselves? Why don’t we tell ourselves that just because it’s the holiday season, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t allowed to feel our feelings. Why don’t we tell ourselves that it is okay to miss a certain holiday party or gathering that we don’t feel up to attending? Why don’t we allow ourselves to have patience with ourselves, to not get swept up in the holiday pandemonium that we believe we are “supposed to do.”
I know that this is easier said than done. Trust me, I know this all too well. I know that there are certain things that will have to be done for the sake of others at the expense of your own well-being. I know that there will be times where we will beat ourselves up over maybe eating “too much” or not having enough money to get everyone gifts or whatever it is. I am not off floating on some rainbow cloud somewhere where I have no trouble taking care of myself first and where I take nightly bubble baths while drinking overpriced tea. I’m right there in the trenches with you. I am sitting here thinking about “how much I have eaten today” and “how gross it is.” What are these thoughts giving me? Nothing. Still, being aware of the bad thoughts and identifying them as such is, in my opinion, the first step towards real self-care. Instead of sitting and wallowing in these thoughts, I am telling them to all of you and doing something that I love. I love writing, and I don’t do it nearly often enough because I’m “not good at it” (according to the little jerk that lives in my head).. But I am doing it anyway, despite what the dark part of my brain may tell me. It’s not a lot, but it is still practicing self-care and compassion. It is a step forward.
So here is my challenge for you, promise me that you will try your hardest to give to yourself, your soul, this holiday season. Promise me that you will try to practice gentleness towards yourself at least once a day until December 25. Self-care doesn’t need to be elaborate. Practicing self-care isn’t all bubble baths and tea and yoga. Self-care can be cleaning up your room that, while how messy it is has been making you anxious, you have been too depressed to clean. Self-care can be listening to a podcast that makes you laugh. Self-care can be waking up extra early to watch the sun come up. Heck, self-care can be eating two tablespoons of sunflower butter instead of one. Self-care is anything and everything that lifts you up, that creates a little glimmer or light among the seemingly endless dark.
Everything you think and feel is valid…
Even during the holidays.
…If you want to hear more of my thoughts on this manner, I also made a video on my Youtube channel about this topic.