If you're a Midwesterner like me, then the first snow generally signifies the official start of THE holiday season. As a child I remember this being a time of wonder and excitement. I enjoyed playing outside in the snow with my sister and baking cookies for Santa. It brought up feelings of joy, but also some feelings of uncertainty and sadness, maybe stress too even as a kid.
At the hesitation of sounding like a grinch, I want us to start talking about and normalizing the difficulties, sadness, pain, loss, and other less talked about emotions that many people experience as a result of the holidays. Secondly, recognize that talking about THE holidays, meaning only the predominant American ones, excludes and devalues (intentionally and unintentionally) the beliefs, experiences, and traditions of our friends, neighbors, and community. We work on these things and we put into motion opportunity for greater support, compassion and understanding between one another - and after all, isn't that what this time of year is all about?
Okay, so holidays - yay - it's beautiful outside, people decorate their houses in colorful lights, we get an excuse to eat multiple pies in one sitting - but that cheer that we're expected to feel doesn't happen for everyone. Here are some of the reasons why and what we can do about it:
Not everyone celebrates the same holidays and not everyone celebrates in the same way - I'm not getting into the history of American holidays today (although this is an important topic that deserves far more than a blog post from me), but this one is common sense. When we assume something about another person we don't give them the space or time they deserve to share about their beliefs and traditions without judgement. Simple fix: keep your assumptions and judgements in check. For the people who you care about - offer them that time and space and don't be offended if they don't feel comfortable or simply just don't want to share!
This time of year comes stressors - change in season can equal seasonal affective disorder (generally occurring when less sunlight is available at certain times of the year), the family/community expectations of the holidays is real, financial pressure, travel, having to listen to your (insert family member her) ask you why you're not married yet, etc. Recognizing, accepting, and taking action to manage these stressors before they're at your front doorstep can help all of us get through the holidays successfully. So, ask for help, talk with some you trust (like your therapist!), load up on all that good self-care, use those coping skills, be mindful of your emotional bandwidth, and know you are not alone.
Holidays can be painful reminders of loss - especially after the past couple of years, there are lots of us who have a few less loved ones gathering this year. My Minnesotanness tells me to stuff it down and I'll get through it, but guess what, that hasn't been working for me - how about you? Being open and honest about our pain and grief is challenging, so this year, I invite you to try something new with me - instead of ignoring or holding back the tears, celebrate and remember the ones we have lost and be okay with experiencing the sadness that comes along with that. Another piece of loss that doesn't get talked about enough is estrangement. Yes, estrangement from family is a thing. We might assume that our 30ish coworker has and is seeing their family for the holiday break, but how about this year we keep that assumption to ourselves. There are lots of reasons people distance themselves from family and none of that is our business. More blog posts to come on estrangement! (contain your excitement).
Yo, there's still a pandemic happening - respect other people's boundaries around staying healthy and safe this winter. Also, if you want to have a nice debate around vaccinations at your family get-together, just straight up don't. You can thank me later.
Being filled with holiday cheer is not a requirement - *cue small explosion sounds of minds being blown* You don't have to feel any sort of way that isn't genuine in order to spare other people's feelings EVER, this includes the holidays. Now don't go flipping tables and telling everyone off, but DO accept and give yourself grace for feeling any way that you're feeling right now. You do not have to feel guilty because you're not cheery, there is nothing wrong with you. Ideas for those of us not feeling the cheer - get rid of that negative self-talk and shaming (therapists can help with that), remind yourself that your feelings are valid regardless of the time of year, get support (friends, family, professionals, your dog - you know he doesn't judge). For those of us worried about our non-cheery loved ones - telling someone to cheer up just doesn't work so please stop that, be open to listening if they feel like sharing, ask if there is anything you can do and only ask if you genuinely mean it, validate and affirm their feelings, bring down the ol' expectation-o-meter a few notches and understand that when someone has a feeling that is uncomfortable to you that it isn't about you!
We don't have to go into the world afraid of who we are and what we believe in, however, it doesn't hurt anyone to gain some self-awareness and to continue to learn about this changing world and about others. In this season and on this day we have the opportunity to do something different that can support our wellness and the wellness of the people we care about. Be attentive, understanding, compassionate, open, vulnerable, ask for help, and we will make it to 2022 better together.