When I was around 21 my parents finalized their divorce, this was the most difficult experience in my life at this point. Regardless of age, the impact of divorce on kids is hard, and I was no exception. I didn't realize that holidays, from that moment on, were going to be a forced family affair. For the first few years I hoped things would be okay, but it really was awkward and I often wanted to leave events. I even created obligations to avoid being around all the sappy holiday reminders of what I used to have. Additionally, I would notice from time to time the tension, guilt, and loneliness that was so present in my parent's eyes, and of course, I felt it too, I could help it.
Fast forward about eight years, I am now married and have started a family of my own. My Grinch-like heart started to grow again, but just slightly. I began softening again to the holiday spirit, not because I liked the seasons, but because my kids lit up like Christmas trees.
Now, twenty years since my parents divorced, I live in a different state, I have three kids, and if I am honest, holidays still come as a chore. However, because I work hard to love my family I keep pushing through. The joy my kid's experience around Christmas is pretty fantastic too. Note: I still force myself to notice their joy, but it gets easier every year!
PRO GRINCH TIP: STAY AWAY FROM THE "ELF ON THE SHELF"!
IT'S A BUNCH OF CRAP & A PAIN IN THE A$$!
I know many of you reading this struggle with the holidays too, you're obviously not alone, especially in the era of COVID and Crazy World. But holidays, if nothing else, are supposed to be a time to celebrate with family and friends, reflect on ANY of the good times past, and of course to look forward in hope for a better tomorrow. They are a time to remind us of love, thankfulness, consumerism, overspending, lockdowns, political polarity, social discord, and of course overeating (Sorry the Grinch came out again). Seriously though, many will entertain the guests of Sadness, Anger, Disgust, Loneliness, and Depression this year. Yep, life is not as it should be, or how we would like it.
So for those of you in this camp, fight the Eeyore belief that "I am meant to be alone", "things will never get better", or “it’s not much of a tail.” Find support, fight the lies running free in your head (ANTs - Automatic Negative Thoughts), seek out and practice better or different coping strategies: "What if I can't think of better strategies?" Try the following! What do you have to lose?
Keep your expectations in check:
You don’t always get what you want, things go wrong, you and your plans are not perfect, you are only in control of your self so don’t worry about what is not in your control.
Don’t overdo it: Boundaries!!!!
Delegate, say no, simplify your schedule (yes this is actually a choice), plan for what matters most family, friends, pets, maybe some good food, giving if that is in your capacity, and so forth.
Keep it social, Keep it fun
Isolation is not your friend, so find some live music, beautiful sights, go where people are, get involved, volunteer, the sky is the limit. I think it goes without saying, but avoid the Grinch-like Negative Nelly’s, no extra downers necessary!
Budget, Budget, Budget
Don’t overspend! It is a good life lesson to live within your means. Giving does not always have to be monetary. Make something, write something, sing something, be creative, and put your heart into it.
Get in the sun!!!
If the sun is not available find a sun lamp (Full Spectrum Lamp), 20 min can make a difference - This can be very helpful with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).
If you can help it maintain a healthy diet (Boundaries again!). Overeating the wrong types of foods can negatively impact your mood and energy level. You may get that nice hit of dopamine running through your brain but it doesn’t last, and for those with predispositions to overeating - these struggles can return and limit the progress you have made and/or are hoping to make.
Think Happy Thoughts Peter
Yes I know it sounds like fluff but the research coming out of the field of Positive Psychology suggests that we have greater life satisfaction when we are optimistic, express gratitude (especially in written form), and attempt to notice the good, look for it so you can continue to think positively. We tend to feel better when we have happy thoughts, and we feel worse when we have negative ones - yes this is obvious, but do you do it? I know we can’t always just “Stop It”, and retrain our brain to perceive, interpret and think differently, takes time. But feeling better has got to be worth the effort right?!?!
Find a Reason to be Grateful
Like happy thoughts, this is a matter of effort, time, and consistency. Like happy thoughts, this can provide a little extra boost of the feel-good dopamine - Similar to overeating but nicer on the waistline, arteries, heart, energy, and so on. If we create consistent behaviors looking for reasons to be grateful we can even increase our overall emotional intelligence, frequency of positive emotions, and in some cases quality of sleep. - For more on this see my other blog "Thanksgiving is more than a day"
Did you know that St. Nicolas (The real Santa Claus) was a pretty giving guy, and because of his influence we have this holiday notion of giving! He would give money in socks (stockings) hanging out of windows, feed the poor, and even provide blankets and clothes. Did you know that giving actually creates longer-lasting feelings of satisfaction, whereas receiving is a fleeting feeling? Yup, philanthropic behaviors help to promote greater feelings of life satisfaction. A good antidote to being down in the dumps.
Alcohol… I Recommend Against
I know I know, this is the time of year to eat drink, and be merry, right? Well, remember, If you did not already know, alcohol is a depressant and can increase your stinking thinking or down feelings. I get it, sometimes holidays are hard and you just want to forget, but alcohol is like putting your head in the sand, you will eventually sober up and you will be again left with all those unforgettable emotions and memories. A good time to seek out counseling if you are in this camp - AA would be good too.
Learning to Forgive
Again, I know, it is not always that easy. This is another area in the field of psychology that researchers are digging into, especially with couples. Forgiving ones self is just as important as forgiving another. Dead or alive forgiveness is still valid and can be one of the most freeing activities… over time. There are a lot of great books out there, just do a search on Amazon and you will find more than you can shake a stick at. Remember, forgiveness is not a one-time thing, and it may require multiple attempts over a time that I can not define.
The issue of faith, for many, can be a straining topic full of conflicting memories, ideas, and beliefs. I am not here to push any particular faith, however I am going to advocate for faith in something more, something bigger than ourselves. The research on the implementation of faith, as per the book "Faith from a positive psychology perspective" by Miller-Perrin and Mancuso, suggests increased positive: emotions, behaviors, cognition, relationships, community, and overall positive human functioning.
Coping, like anything worth having in life, takes grit, time and intentionality. No matter the strategies you try, the ones in this article, or others, you must try them repeatedly and over time. If you're like me, you may have to force yourself like a disgruntled employee until your heart reaches a human size. So give it a solid go, it’s worth it to have less Depression and good vibes. Remember the blues make for good music, just not good rules to live by.
Eddie Eccker, MS, LMFT
Updated December 7th, 2021