It’s Thanksgiving week, and while the official kickstart of the holiday season invokes a sense of joy and excitement for many, it’s also completely normal to approach the holidays with a sense of dread. As a therapist, I observed some of these feelings kicking in a few weeks ago, just as the stores started playing Rudolph the Red nosed reindeer.
“Oh God, I hate what this time of year does to me.”
“Ugh, the holidays are coming. I wish we could just fast-forward to New Year’s.”
“I feel like hiding out in my room until it’s all over. I really hate the holidays.”
While this season is commercialized as the happiest time of the year, it can also trigger a range of emotions in people including sadness, guilt and anger, particularly if they are already coping with things like loss, family discord, marital troubles, financial problems or loneliness. If you feel sad around the holidays, please know you’re not the only one.
If you find yourself feeling a sense of dread around the upcoming holidays, try these:
CREATE YOUR OWN TRADITIONS: I started hosting my own Friendsgiving party four years ago as a way to bring my close friends together, but also as a way to gain some control around the holidays. Our group comes together with no expectations other than to enjoy each others’ company and share some good food. No matter what happens throughout the rest of the season, I feel good knowing I had a holiday gathering with the energy, mood and ambiance I wanted it to.
FIND SOMETHING THAT GROUNDS YOU: Grounding is a technique that helps keep someone in the present, and can be helpful in managing overwhelming feelings or intense anxiety. Several of my clients have shared that gardening has been an effective tool for helping them stay focused on the present moment, while also teaching them patience and persistence. One of my best friends, Jen (a therapist specializing in trauma) uses baking as a grounding technique. I use cooking as my grounding strategy; something requiring slow, but constant attention– like risotto, with its constant stirring–can be very calming.
MANAGE EXPECTATIONS: If you’re not up to cooking everything from scratch, DON’T. If buying presents for 20 relatives is financially impossible or simply uncomfortable, speak up and figure out another solution. If traveling to three different houses on Thanksgiving Day sounds like a terrible way to spend your day off, try working out a different plan.
If your family gathering has you seriously stressed, try these:
TRAVEL SOLO. No one likes to feel trapped. Travel in your own car so you can bounce whenever you’re ready without having to wait for someone else.
OPT OUT IF NEEDED: If you feel attending a gathering will cause you real damage, decline the invitation.
BRING A BOARD GAME: I could suggest not talking about politics around the table, but it’s going to be tough this year. The recent election results have caused rancor throughout the nation, and will probably cause discord at your family’s table. I often suggest for clients to bring games to their family gatherings to increase the laughter, and decrease the likelihood of stepping on landmines. But if politics do come up, listen to one another.
If you find yourself alone at the holidays, try these:
VOLUNTEER. Doing something for someone else has a great side effect of helping you feel better yourself.
EXERCISE. Plan a long hike, go for an interesting walk or run through an area you’ve never explored before. I’m planning to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge on Thanksgiving morning because it’s something I love to do, and being outside makes me feel energized, present, happy and grateful.
START A PROJECT: Engage your mind in something productive that will provide a boost of accomplishment, like finally painting your bedroom a soothing color or putting together those shelves that have been lingering in the corner for months.
Anyone else have any helpful tips for managing the holiday blues?