“Anyone that knows me, knows just how much I love happy holidays, and particularly Christmas, always! Give me all the hustle and bustle, the mulled wine and the Bailey’s hot chocolate at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. I’d never really thought about anyone not enjoying it. So, I’m delighted to have read and be able to share this post from Valerie @ The tiny couch. It’s about her take on holidays — and it’s certainly made me think”Me
I’ve only recently come across Valerie’s blog where she writes about self help, psychoeducation, or tips and tricks for overcoming obstacles. Her blog The Tiny Couch promotes inclusion, equality, mental health awareness, ending stigmas associated with diagnoses, and helping you master your own universe. Why not pop on over to say hi.
Guest post about unhappy holidays by Valerie Rice
The Holiday season is upon us. Well, according to stores it has been forced on us since before we could trick-or-treat, and before you start screaming “Merry Christmas!” At every passer-by, I think we should have a chat. Not everyone finds joy in the holiday season.
Yes, for you it may be filled with snowy days of nostalgia and warmth, curled up by a fire with hot cocoa and joyous memories. But for many others it is a dark tunnel of fear, loneliness, suicidal ideation, and pain.
Every twinkling light that fills you with dewy eyed joy is a reminder for others of some hidden horror life has thrown their way. If this is difficult to wrap your head around, please allow me to explain.
Yes, your family may be what you call “dysfunctional” because Aunt Maude drinks too much and Uncle Frank tells inappropriate jokes at dinner. Hell, you probably even have more than one political opinion you have to dance around once the wine starts flowing.
Oh, my! This is normal, folks. An ACTUAL dysfunctional family is where:
- Aunt Maude secretly beats the children with a cheese grater until they bleed. Mother looks the other way because she is drunk, and at least they are quiet.
- Uncle Frank slips into the children’s bedrooms at night to tickle the little boys’ and girls’ until they beg him to stop, but nobody cares because “it’s all in good fun.”
- The dissenting political opinion is more than a dinner argument; it results in one parent beating the other bloody, taking the kids away, and never letting them see the other.
Catch my drift? So with all the pressure to be with family around the holidays, is it any wonder that people who have dysfunctional families are feeling a bit…unhappy?
Let’s get real now
Okay, real talk: Miserable, isolated, alone, and severely depressed. Not to mention traumatized by surfacing recollections of holidays past (Dayton, 2016).
Then there are those who, having mastered the art of avoiding these triggers, are now feeling the complex mixture of relief, guilt, and estrangement that comes with being bombarded by social pressure to go home because it is, after all, the holidays.
You hear me talk about this one a LOT. This is because my darling son and nephew-son have Autism Spectrum Disorder and not one single child of mine is neurotypical. All four of them have special needs.
We do NOT like holidays. Why? Well, they screw up our regularly scheduled program, and with special needs, daily life is key. No, we do NOT want an extended break from school. We do NOT like sudden changes to our menu, crazy decorations everywhere, people in our faces, random packages appearing, the tension of expectation and so on.
We REALLY hate the inexplicable contradiction of religious proselytizing and commercialism. It drives those of us with logical wired brains up the wall. And kids on the spectrum are highly logical, emotionally unstable, schedule driven bombs. So the appearance of religious paraphernalia, Santa Claus, scented decoration, and so on in mid october is not only confusing, but it is overstimulating.
We now have to avoid any stores with decorations. So all of them. And any people on the march in the imaginary war on christmas. So we go nowhere. Why? These people think they are doing good. How very egocentric of them.
Well, because not only have you turned our entire universe into a cinnamon and pine drenched stink bomb, but the constant shouting for months is a burden to the overabundance of neurons in their brains (Jasmin et al, 2019).
So for us, October through December is a clusterfu*k of hellish avoidance and meltdowns as we try to keep life on track despite society’s insistence to disrupt our well ordered lives.
Yes, this is a real thing. Many people, more than you would think, are negatively affected by increasing darkness, cold weather, and the changing seasons, especially those with mood disorders (Dell’Osso et al, 2014).
What does this mean? It means that individuals with certain brain chemical imbalances are affected by the shortening days and become increasingly suicidal.
Even if they do not present with active disorders for the rest of the year, the imbalance in their brains is triggered around the holidays and causes seasonal depression, which means they can’t, no matter how much you smile, enjoy the holidays.
Individuals who are prone to eating disorders and PTSD are more affected than others, primarily because they are sensitive to what we call circadian rhythms (light fluctuations). Our bodies are naturally tuned to our environment.
This is why we have a whole subfield of psychology called environmental psychology, to help improve the wellness of people especially in urban areas and indoor environments. Sometimes, you are just SAD. Sorry guys, you can’t think or smile your way out of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
What you can do if you hate holidays too
I believe I made it abundantly clear that I despise the holiday season which, for some reason (money) takes up 25% of the year. So what do you do? A few things, actually.
- Let’s start with your priorities. Prioritize yourSELF above everything else. I want you to take a deep breath and repeat after me: Self care is not selfish. Good.
- Now I want you to try a few mindfulness exercises. I know, I know, the last place you want to be is here right now. But it is much better than getting stuck in past trauma, so click here.
- Another thing you can do is get a light box. Artificial sunlight will help you feel better in the darkness of winter, try for 5,000 to 10,000 lumens every morning (Shaffer, 2019).
- What my doctor recommends for my entire family every year is vitamin D supplements. I’m not usually a supplement type of girl, but I trust my physician. I also live in the mountains and in the middle latitudes, so we do not get enough vitamin D. Aim for 600-1,000 IU daily, or talk to your doctor.
- A simple blood test can tell if you are deficient.
- Find a support group. Of any type. Hell, join a book club. Just make connections with other people to keep from being isolated. Of course, if you end up with a book about some damn holiday theme, you should leave.
The holidays are a time of resentment, fear, stress, and joy. For some ridiculous reason our society likes to jam Christmas deep down our throats, whether we celebrate it or not (46%of Americans actually celebrate it), and then get offended if we gag.
Look, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. I feel terrible for those of us who have to deal with this out of control season. Winter is dark and cold, the constant reminder of trauma is cruel, and it isn’t going to get better until at least March.
So ignore those jerks with jingle bells, and do NOT feel obligated to respond in kind when someone says “Merry Christmas” in a defensive and overly chipper way. This is YOUR life and YOU get to control it. Focus on you and take care.
As always, over to you
Okay, over to you. What’s your thoughts on the holiday season? I’m guessing there’s a mix of lovers and haters and I’d love hear why you love or hate it. If you dislike it because of all the stress, you might like my Managing good mental health during the holiday season? In the meantime, Valerie and I look forward to your comments and we’re happy to answer any questions.
Dayton, T. (2016). There’s No Place Like Home: How Unresolved Familial Trauma Can Emerge Around the Holidays. Counselor: The Magazine for Addiction Professionals, 17(6), 10–12.
Dell’Osso, L., Massimetti, G., Conversano, C., Bertelloni, C. A., Carta, M. G., Ricca, V., & Carmassi, C. (2014). Alterations in circadian/seasonal rhythms and vegetative functions are related to suicidality in DSM-5 PTSD. BMC Psychiatry, 14, 352. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-014-0352-2
Jasmin, K., Gotts, S. J., Xu, Y., Liu, S., Riddell, C. D., Ingeholm, J. E., Kenworthy, L., Wallace, G. L., Braun, A. R., & Martin, A. (2019). Overt social interaction and resting state in young adult males with autism: core and contextual neural features. Brain : A Journal of Neurology, 142(3), 808–822. https://doi.org/10.1093/brain/awz003
Shaffer, D. K. (2019). A healthy, whole holiday season: Cultivate wellness this year. Alive: Canada’s Natural Health & Wellness Magazine, 446, 35–37