Dear People Who Love The Holidays and Family Gatherings,
The holidays are not joyous for everyone! Not everyone gets excited about time off to spend with family and friends while celebrating togetherness, eating good food, watching sports, feeling grateful, or exchanging gifts.
The reasons vary. Some people have experienced loss around the holidays and for them, it will never be the same. Some people never had joyous and loving family experiences growing up and choose not to pretend that everything is ok now that they are an adult. Some people experienced family events that may have been dysfunctional, disturbing, toxic and anything but loving. Some people don’t like the holidays because the family drunks and drug addicts aren’t funny or kind but are mean and malicious.
Some people that experience Social Anxiety, may feel like they are being forced to be around crowds. To attend a simple family event may take an incredible force of willpower. Some people are not “out” and they feel shunned by their family because they can’t bring the person they love to the event. Some people don’t have the material wealth that others have and feel embarrassed to admit that they can’t afford to bring the sweet potato souffle or paper towels this year. Some people struggle to bring themselves to be around the cousin that molested and raped them while everyone else seems to have forgiven, forgotten, and moved on.
Some people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder or Seasonal Depression. As the season changes and it gets colder, it is natural to stay inside and out of the dreary weather. To some, the lack of sunlight is too much and their body begins to produce less serotonin. When this happens, they feel depressed, lethargic (tired) and may be irritable. Irritability is an often-overlooked aspect of Depression. When you don’t “feel good” even someone trying to help can get on your nerves.
The reasons go on and on. At the end of the day, just because a person does not like the holidays or chooses not to participate in holiday activities, does not mean that they don’t love their family or that they are anti-social. It simply means that they need space to deal with whatever it is that is going on. They are making the PARAMOUNT choice of choosing themselves over what others may say about them in their absence.
So what do you need to know if you are struggling with the idea of facing your family for the holidays or you don’t have anyone to celebrate with during the holiday season?
- It’s ok. If you decide to not celebrate with family because you are dealing with some things, you’re tired and want to sleep, or if you don’t have anyone to hang out with, just know that it is ok. It is your holiday and you can “celebrate” it any way that you choose.
- If you just want to be alone then that is ok too! Introverts Unite! For introverts, being around large groups of people for extended amounts of time is incredibly draining! The fun wears off quickly and most introverts want out of there just to go home and breathe. To not appear rude, many introverts will stay at an event past their limit and become overwhelmed, anxious or even angry. So, if you choose to avoid the scenario that often occurs when you try to leave an event early (i.e. questions about why you are leaving so early, guilt trips, attitudes, etc.), by making the choice to stay home then do what is best for YOU.
- Work on your Boundary-setting skills. Saying NO is not the popular choice because most people suffer from “trying to be nice syndrome” and they are afraid to say no. However, those people tend to suffer in most situations they unwittingly find themselves in. NO is not a bad word. NO is not about being mean. Quite the contrary! NO means that you have made a decision. NO means that you have chosen your happiness over the “popular opinion” which usually means doing what everyone else wants you to do. If you struggle with saying NO and fear others being mad at you, then you may need to work with a therapist to hone those skills.
- Check-in with yourself to ensure you are not dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Here are some more signs or symptoms of SAD:
- Feeling sad or depressed most of the day.
- Having very low energy that may cause you to not go into work, shower, eat, etc.
- Changes in sleep patterns (too much or too little).
- Changes in eating patterns (eating more or eating less).
- Losing weight or gaining weight
- Feeling hopeless and/or worthless
- Loss of interest in once pleasurable activities
- Thoughts of death or suicide. (Please seek help with this!)
*If you are experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), possible treatment that can be used is Light Therapy (OTT light), exposure to real sunlight, medication, or counseling.
- Know that you are not alone. It may seem that the whole world is out and about having the time of their lives but you would be surprised at the number of people that have to work during the holidays, cant afford to travel to see their family, choose not to see their family for various reasons, or have a multitude of reasons why they will be spending the holidays alone. If you are interested in spending the holidays with others, but maybe not your own family, ask around. Maybe you and your friends can create a new holiday tradition or maybe you can visit their family’s home. Or maybe you can opt to celebrate by yourself and start your own tradition. The only requirement is that you HONOR YOURSELF by following your heart’s desire. I promise you will be so glad you did!
FOR FAMILY MEMBERS: If you are the family member that can’t wrap your head around why someone would not want to spend the holidays with family members, read below for tips on what you can do:
- Accept your family member’s decision. You may or may not know why someone doesn’t want to be with family during the holidays but you can accept their decision without demanding to know why or laying on the guilt trip.
- Accept that it is not about you. A family member’s decision to not attend family events is not about you. They are making a decision that is in their best interest. You are not a part of the equation so do not take it as a form of rejection. This is about them, not you.
- Love them anyway. Their absence does not have anything to do with love. Sometimes you have to love people from afar. Accept that they are welcome to come at any time and if they choose not to attend the event then that is their choice. It is but a day. Prayerfully, another one will come after it. So, accept it and move on.
In the end, how you spend your time during the holidays is a personal decision. Some people don’t celebrate it for religious reasons but they enjoy the time off. So, however, you plan to spend your holidays (i.e. working, alone, with friends, with someone else’s family, or even with your own family), let that be a personal decision that you make for yourself.
Take care and remember I’m rooting for YOU!
Deirdre Haynes, Ed.S, LPCS