Mental Health

The Myth of “Holiday Cheer”


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There is nothing quite as isolating as experiencing depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, or any mental or physical illness during the holidays. Mental illness can feel isolating most of the time, but the feelings of isolation are compounded during the holidays by the expectation of holiday cheer.

Since the holidays are also promoted as a joyous time to spend with loved ones, they can be very painful if your family situation is complicated, if you are experiencing grief over the death of a loved one, or the loss of a relationship.

I spent last Christmas halfway across the country in treatment.

Every time I got a “Merry Christmas” text I was grateful people were thinking of me, but I also wanted to cry because everyone else’s good holiday cheer only reminded me of how alone and miserable I felt in contrast. Then I felt guilty for feeling so miserable because isn’t Christmas supposed to be a time for happiness and celebration?

If you are not feeling the holiday cheer, you are not alone!

All of us who struggle around the holidays believe we are the one and only Grinch in the crowd, the one person without the picture-perfect family to celebrate with, the one person feeling sad and run down.

But having a not-so-great relationship with the holidays isn’t out of the ordinary.


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Here are just a few examples of painful experiences that are exacerbated by the holidays:

  • Seasonal Affective Disorder–the lack of light during this time of year can cause a very depressed mood.
  • Social anxiety–all of the parties and extended family interactions are stressful.
  • Eating disorders–all of the desserts and large meals are distressing for people with all kinds of eating disorders.
  • Family issues.
  • Going through a breakup or divorce.
  • The death of a loved one, especially the first holidays without them.
  • Financial stress exacerbated by holiday gift expectations and expenses.
  • Work stress–if you’re not salaried, having holidays off can be financially stressful.

I hope this list reminds you of a large number of people who struggle with the holidays who can relate to what you are going through. The truth is a lot of people struggle this time of year, but they usually aren’t transparent about it because of the pressure to put on a happy face for the holidays.

If you are someone who truly is in the holiday spirit and hadn’t thought of any of the above, I hope this list makes you think. The holidays are a good time to reach out to someone you know who is going through a hard time and offer your love and support.

I deal with my complicated relationship with the holidays through radical acceptance.

Radical acceptance is a way of approaching emotions without judgment. In other words, I do not berate myself for the way I feel during the holidays. I instead admit I’m having a hard time, tell myself the way I am feeling is normal and okay, and I spend extra time on self-care activities that bring me joy and distraction when I am feeling distressed.

I also remind myself the holidays are just normal days with a title.

I do not have to build them up in my mind to the point where they feel overwhelming. Yes, Thanksgiving can be stressful with all of the food and Christmas (in my case; for you it may be a different holiday) can be stressful for social anxiety reasons. But in the end, I know I have practiced many instances of coping with eating and anxiety. If I treat Thanksgiving and Christmas like any other day, I am more confident I can make it through.

 

Be good to yourself this holiday season, and remember: just as there is nothing shameful about struggling with mental illness or emotional distress, there is nothing shameful about not being in the “holiday spirit” or having holiday cheer.

You are not alone.

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Jessica has a B.A. in Psychology and Women's Studies and is pursuing a graduate degree in Clinical Psychology. She is passionate about social justice and hopes to make a difference in the lives of others and advocate for social change. Having recovered from an eating disorder, Jessica is committed to spreading the word that freedom from eating disorders is possible. Through her writing at Libero, Jessica hopes to empower those struggling with eating disorders to fight for the health and happiness that they deserve.

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