Holidaze Hazards

It’s almost Thanksgiving. I just made a test pumpkin pie to troubleshoot a recipe, and tonight we’ll dig in. It’s cold and the app on my phone has switched “Chance of Rain” to “Chance of Snow” which apparently, right here in Oregon, is 0%. The sun is down before 5 pm and doesn’t rise until after 7 am. Most of the trees have, sadly, lost their beautiful leaves. And we are in the last week of November.

Despite feeling guilty about it for various reasons such as the horrendous history of oppression by white Christians of those who are neither, I enjoy the holidays. I love light shows and carols. I love pumpkin pie, eggnog (non-dairy in my case) with freshly grated nutmeg, cranberry relish, lots of candles burning, It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, Love Actually, and a lot of other holiday themed things. I love the decorations on the courthouse that just got put up yesterday even though we haven’t even weathered Thanksgiving yet. I love putting up and decorating a tree and stuffing fresh green branches everywhere I can. I love fall, I love Halloween, I love Thanksgiving…and I love feasts of light, all of them, that happen in winter: Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah. I’m sure there are more to be enjoyed that I just have not discovered; I used to enjoy marking off the lesser feasts, the December markers every Catholic knows (Advent, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, St. Nicholas’ Day). I love making special treats to eat and share, enjoying sweets that have no other reason to exist, that I only make-or eat-in winter.

I’d love all these winter feasts even more if we could get the consumerism out of them, the endless pressures to buy and to gift things no one needs, not to mention the horrendous history of oppression by white Christians of those who are neither. I have plenty of white guilt, and I really can do without the presents. And I’d definitely love the winter more if I knew it were truly a time of peace, shelter, and nurturance for all.

I am also keenly aware that for many, the Holidaze time is dreaded, rather than just somewhat morally uncomfortable. It’s a struggle to just get through. There are a lot of reasons for this. Too often, November and December bring numerous unwelcome and very painful memories. Then again, even when they don’t, our natural tendency to seek hibernation in winter is thwarted over and over, exhausting us. We are bombarded by over-the-top sensory stimuli and demands for attention. While celebrating light, warmth, and love in winter has a long and compelling history in the human psyche, we’ve taken it to an extreme that masks its true benefits. The race to get homemade goodies and carefully curated gifts shipped can be overwhelming and expensive; winter is a time when expenses are up and income often doesn’t keep pace. My tendency is to not participate in that, and then feel guilty about it. I can’t keep up, and I know it, but still, I feel deficient and culpable; my contribution at times has been to send homemade cards, which I usually don’t even think about until about now, and then struggle to produce, sign, and mail. My mixed feelings about all this land on a very long spectrum; at least I love a lot of things about this time of year. I’m fortunate that way. Others are not.

You might find Thanksgiving and Christmas culturally out of sync with your own personal religious beliefs or spiritual practice-especially if you’re not Christian or white-and feel more marginalized than usual this time of year, whether or not you celebrate a winter holiday. If you struggle with this time of year, you’re in excellent company.

Despite the company, you may feel profoundly isolated. There’s an assumption that this is a time to be with others-a lot. You may not be up for that. You might feel particularly lonely remembering someone who’s no longer in your life. You might be an introvert who dreads the increased social demands, or suffer from social anxiety to the point that parties feel obligatory yet are simply too painful to cope with. So how can you take care of yourself?

Inspired by the plight of a family member who has many reasons to avoid the Holidaze, here are a few tips.

Figure out what you can say no to, and what you can do instead.
Maybe you hate Christmas music with a passion and your spouse loves it. In this case, negotiate an agreement that’s a win-win. It might sound bonkers, but either you, your spouse, or both of you may choose to wear earbuds and listen to your choice as it suits you. Yes, I am suggesting the use of technology to provide respite. Normally I wouldn’t, but this can be a big conflict, and you don’t want to lose your partner over this, do you? In this case, figure out when you need to separate your musical choices, and decide on your options. It’s not that hard. Your partner might feel sad that this music they always loved listening to with their family, or singing in a choir, isn’t something they can share with you. Be respectful, validate their feelings, and get yours validated. Pandora, ITunes, Spotify, Amazon Music, and all those other apps were made for this! You get to listen to whatever your love, and so do they. Better yet, encourage your partner to go caroling. With someone else. Have a warming drink of their choice and some delicious snack ready for them when they return. If you hate Christmas movies and shows, that’s OK. The two of you can watch your choices separately. Make a schedule-structure helps. You can play video games or take a drive or a nap while they take their turn, and they can do the same for you. And speaking of partners, if you have one…

Make sure they know you love them, but this is a really hard time of year for you.
“Honey, I love you and want you to have everything that makes you happy, and I want you to know that this is just a time of year I’d like to skip.” Say it lovingly, sincerely, and respectfully. You get to be you. And if you can manage to be respectful instead of rolling your eyes when they want to watch Rudolph again, or decorate, or go to a holiday gathering, they will feel cared for and better able to return the favor. Isn’t that what relationships are about? And BTW, warn them you may be more irritable, isolating, sad, or prone to singing Eagles classics (if you’re my age) or something else as soon as you enter anyplace where carols are blasting. Please do them that kindness. It will help them understand what you’re going through, and provide support. If you don’t have a partner…

Take extra time for self-care.
Our bodies and souls need the downtime winter naturally affords us, but modern society frowns on that. Humans, like other species in winter, historically have had to focus on survival in the winter; now that so many of us don’t, we have forgotten that with shorter light cycles, our bodies gravitate toward needing and wanting more rest, hot nourishing food and drink, and hibernation. We also naturally tend to feel more down when there’s less sunlight, making it important to get outside in what sunlight there is or to use full spectrum lighting if at all possible (look for a “happy light”-it will help). There’s plenty of scientific information out there for the Googling to support you in taking time for yourself. If you’re able to get far away, and that’s what would help you, you definitely have my blessing. This is the time of year many people who live in dark, cold, rainy or snowy climes head for Mexico. Or Hawaii. Or Bali, or New Zealand-where it’s summer rather than winter. That kind of travel is not be in everyone’s budget, however. If it’s not in yours, figure out how you can best take care of yourself physically and emotionally, and do it. If you find yourself feeling more than just a little down and thinking self-destructive thoughts, please seek professional help. I know I can speak for numerous other mental health professionals when I say we are very aware of how difficult the Holidaze can be.

Figure out what you can say yes to.
Maybe you celebrate something else, and you love it, or at least enjoy it. Do that thing. Do it big. Really focus on it so you get its richness, meaning, and joy. You don’t even have to do it with other people, if your need is to be alone.

Or maybe you don’t mind certain parts of the Holidaze. Driving around looking at lights, eating rich and superfluous holiday treats, watching things that are nominally seasonal but really all about something completely different (Bad Santa and Die Hard fans, I’m talking about you). Maybe you enjoy taking volunteer shifts at the local homeless shelter or food bank, and you like it enough that you don’t care about the Reason for the Season sweatshirts, Santa hats, and holiday music you find there. Maybe your partner really, really, really wants to go see that infamous holiday performance you’re not interested in, but you can buy them a ticket and enlist a friend to go with them. Stay home and cocoon. It’s all right.

If you don’t want to be alone, maybe you and some likeminded friends can band together for a horror movie marathon, or watch every single movie your favorite action star ever made, or if you’re an outdoors person, go camping (make sure to take lots of layers). Going out for Chinese food on Christmas is a time-honored tradition. See if you can create a tradition of your own that you can enjoy and possibly share; it will give you something to look forward to, and less to dread, next winter.

Essentially, find everything possible to say yes to. You’ll feel better, and the people you interact with will, too.

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311 SW 2nd Street
Corvallis, OR 97333

maria@deeperwellpsychotherapy.com
(541) 262-0080

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