“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.
This is not even a rare occurrence. Remember when I said mental illness is prevalent in society? Do you remember the number? 1 in 4.
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
28 thoughts on “Holidays are not ALWAYS happy”
This will be my 2nd Christmas I don’t plan to celebrate. I thought I would, but I can’t.
The only difference this year, is I am happy to buy, or receive Christmas/Fall presents.
As I have mentioned above, I have mentioned Fall. I am doing the American thing and celebrating that in my own way, as I have recently blogged.
Presents I have sent some early and some have neutral wrap, so they can choose when to open their presents. Christmas, or earlier and like wise.
When I receive gifts, I am not likely to save gifts to open at Christmas, I may open ear.
Aaawww, that’s different Liz and a great idea. Whatever works for some, doesn’t always work for others. For me, I’m lucky all my family and friends love Christmas holidays too.
Christmas used to be a very positive time for me and my family, but depression has put the kibosh on that, and now I’m just indifferent.
Yep, mental health can do that Ashley 🙁 I think I’ve only ever missed two Christmas Days because of it. And fortunately the boys were in Australia with their father and family, so at least they had a good time 🙂
It doesn’t mean much to me anymore. I can take it or leave it.
I was always fairly indifferent to it, working in a hotel for so many years always meant working over the festive period and also meant I was kind of sick of all the festivities by the time the actual day arrived. Since having the little one (it’ll be her second Christmas this year) it’s reignited my love for Christmas so I’m quite looking forward to it 😊
Yes, having to work through it probably takes the shine of the baubles and tinsel sometimes. But definitely, it changes when there are little one around. x
I really nodded at the part on dysfunctional families. Really, I hate the cliche saying “Oh isn’t EVERY family a little dysfunctional?” NO, not true at all.
I’ve always hated Xmas and Lunar New Year because yes, dysfunctional family. Looking forward to celebrating with friends now that I am free though 🙂
That’s such a shame. But like you said, now as an adult you get to celebrate it any which way that pleases you. So that’s good to hear 🙂 x
Christmas has always been a special time in my family, coming from a largeish family meant Christmas was always loud and busy, even more so when my daughter came along.
I struggle with the noise and being surrounded by people at times though. But have found ways around it, like heading out for a walk for some quite time.
Sorry its taking me a while to catch up again
Yep, me too so no worries. x
It was always great when I had the boys around too. These days, one’s in America so we go to my youngest son and his new wife’s home in London 🙂
There are some years I really enjoy holidays and some years when I’m simply not interested. I hadn’t thought about how strongly some people might feel a sense of disruption from the noise and flash of holidays, though. That’s a good point. It would be confusing and agitating if routine provided security in your life.
You’re right and those were the very things I hadn’t thought of either.
I get so caught up in my own excitement about the holidays, I don’t stop to think how others might feel about it all. I will now though 🙂
Although I am a rather positive person, I don’t like holidays. The older I grow, the more I avoid the major holidays. The only thing has changed was the arrival of my daughter who lead me see the joy of holidays again through her tiny eyes.
Ah! See, the little one’s brought it all back to you 🙂 They make it so much fun.
However, I hadn’t thought of how or why others don’t like the holidays. I need to keep it in mind too.
I start to dread Christmas from July onwards each year. The issue for me is not with Christmas as such, as I enjoy all the Christmassy stuff (except the Christmas music overkill and the crazy number of work celebrations).
My issue is to do with family. The pressure regarding certain family traditions is immense. In the interests of self preservation (and thank god, once I realised it was okay to look after my own well being) there are certain family events I don’t go to any more.
Even when a certain big Boxing Day event is at our place every three years, I (like so many people) have had the bomb – exhausted on so many levels. So, I will climb into bed about 7:30pm and that’s it, unless the Doctor Who Christmas Special is on, then I will fall into bed afterwards. Linda’s a real trooper, she will keep everyone entertained until the cows come home.
Underneath it all, I suffer from the worst migraines. I won the lottery, as my neurologist pointed out – I suffer from all forms. So, these days I must follow a set routine every day or I am done for in the worst way. So, it’s a certain medication at a set time every night, I must be in bed by 10ish and no alcohol. However, even such a routine is no guarantee. Fortunately, my backup is a wonderful drug that kills a migraine dead within minutes (no more injections) and I can be fully functional the next day. However, I might have to take this drug for three or more days in a row.
Anyway, Caz, I need to start dusting off some Christmas tunes on the guitar 😂
Thankfully, we’ve had many great family Christmas with everyone there. We’ve always said as a family that there are certain occasions people have to put their differences aside and just get on with it. So we’ve never had arguments round the dinner table about it all lol.
Wow, those migraines must be awful Sean. I only get what’s called aural migraines – nope I’d never heard of them either. It’s where a whole big white spot covers my eyes, apart from the corners, so I can’t read or see anything properly. It’s not painful, just a flippin’ nuisance! I do have medication which works quite quickly but I can’t use more than 6 in a month? I feel for you not being able to have a beer or wine with your meal – I don’t drink loads but I love a Baileys at Christmas lol.
What kind of music do you play Sean? I tried to learn the guitar when I was young but never got past learning Amazing Grace and my mum got tired of hearing it. She also had my eldest sister trying to play the trombone, my younger sister played the chanter (part of the bagpipes) and the recorder. It all used to drive mum nuts lol.
I do wish I was musical, or at least be able to sing 🙁
Sometimes, with migraines I don’t even get a warning or I will wake up with one. But generally, my symptoms are tingling/numb toes and fingers, blurred vision, aural flashes and waves and black blank spots, extreme tension at the base of my neck, a very bad stomachache (can become stomach migraine) and being unreasonably cranky the night before.
So, my medication regime is Endep nightly (the interesting thing here is if I have stopped taking this for more than three days – instant migraine), Valium re the neck tension and no restriction around the plan b medication. When it’s milder, I use a regime of aspirin. Filling out the form where they are undertaking a random drug test is always interesting – but I have nothing to hide. And, I don’t miss the days of being in a darkened room, not being able to move, vomiting ad nauseam and where no one could even whisper at the other end of the house.
I play a wide range of music, Caz. So, the Beatles, the Eagles, Clapton (badly, but it’s okay sometimes), the Stones, Queen, Cat Stevens, Fleetwood Mac, The Kinks, Lou Reed, Jimmy Buffet, Billy Joel, anything I take a fancy to…
That’s very funny about you and your sisters. All of our kids play an instrument or two. We have about 18 instruments – I even drag out the banjo (really, really bad at it, but my ukulele is okay). Once in a blue moon we play together.
Wow, that sounds awful Sean so it looks like I haven’t got it so bad. And I haven’t really, just on top of everything else, it’s something I dislike lol. Your experiences sound terrible, you poor thing. I only ever had one painful migraine with vomiting and nausea, lying in a dark room unable to cry because it was too painful so I don’t envy you at all and I’m glad you have a pain management plan in place.
I wow, I love all that music too – and a bit of country too as we were raised on it. Mum and Dad belonged to a Country & Western Club in Scotland would you believe 😉
Wow, they all play and you play together – that sounds great. We’d have had the noise pollution department round if we’d all tried playing together and I think it might have brought on terrible headaches and turned mum to alcohol lol. 😂😂
I think you do have it much worse than me, Caz. At least I seem to have something in place that works. Sometimes, it’s fingers crossed though – counting off the seconds waiting for the remedy to kick in.
There is some country and western I like. It’s a very diverse genre. That’s nice about your Mum and Dad. Sounds like they really enjoyed music.
Lol re the noise pollution department. I’m sure our neighbours probably think the same at times 😂
That waiting is just as awful sometimes………… I like the older country stuff more than the later. My friends used to laugh when they came round and Dad was playing his country songs, singing along (well trying lol).
After this lockdown – to heck with neighbours. I think we’ll all be partying 🙂
Our kids were quite rude to their mum when they were younger: “mum please don’t sing” or “mum don’t sing with the car windows down,” as they got into the car😂
There are some good songs in the earlier country music stuff and interesting guitar and other musical instrument techniques. It gets branded as simple at times. A good song is a good song.
Yes, I can see on the horizon there will be a lot of parties!
I love singing along too — when I remember the words lol. The boys tell me I have quite a good voice?? I love when I hear an old country song on the tv or radio (not very often) and sing along – the boys just laugh.
Mind you they both love Elvis, Tom Jones, Van Morrison, Rod Stewart, soul and northern soul and reggae too. They got their eclectic taste from me.
Enjoy your weekend Sean x
I wasn’t raised with Christmas. I started celebrating it when I was around 18 and soon after I started to feel all this crazy pressure to be so perfect and to participate in certain things, buy certain things and be in a certain kind of mood. The expectations are set so high that most all of us are bound to fall short in some way. I had to work to untrain my brain of it again. The last few years I’ve gotten better at embracing the positive aspects of Christmas and not letting myself feel the pressure. I mute the TV when all the sappy Christmas commercials come on. That helps too! 🙃
Sappy Christmas commercials lol. Yes, they all seem to have some sort of competition for who has has the best ad – my favourite remains the Coke lorry 🙂 That always make me feel Christmassy.
Some people don’t like it at all and feel stressed by the whole thing. You know how I love it – I just don’t get myself stressed out about it. In fact I’m just off to order my Christmas cards, wrapping paper etc 😉 x