Dear Dr. Vail,
The happiest time of the year is approaching and I already feel overwhelmed, out of sorts and just plain grumpy. I know that I am supposed to feel happy and joyful during this time of year, but it is not even Thanksgiving and all I want to do is crawl under the covers, stay there and watch TV. I used to love this time of the year but now dealing with the holidays just seems like another chore that I have to contend with. As if that isn't bad enough, I feel worse knowing that I am not even coming close to honoring the family traditions I grew up with and making the holiday season special for my family. I don't know what to do, as calling the whole season off just doesn't seem like an option.
Dear Bah Humbug,
The holiday season is overwhelming for many people. The pressures of entertaining, traveling, decorating, socializing, shopping and buying gifts, often with money they don't have to spend, makes many people question what the holidays are really all about. Many people say this time of year is the hardest for them and their families. The fact that there is such an emphasis on feeling happy often makes people even more aware of how far from happy they feel. Despite the smiling faces you may see around you many others are also feeling the same way.
As it is not possible to call the whole season off there are some things you can try and do to help reconnect the joy and happiness of the season with your life.
First, lower your expectations. This can be very difficult, as the media and advertising companies are very good at portraying what a happy home is supposed to look like and telling us what we are supposed to feel. Many of us have Martha Stewart expectations for how things are supposed be for the season. When we compare our lives to those we see on TV that are trying to sell us something, we often feel like our lives do not measure up and we end up feeling depressed. Holidays are meant to bring families and friends together, yet many people mistakenly put the emphasis on things, not people. Do I have the right dress? Does the house look perfect? Did I buy the perfect gift? All can detract from the positive side of the season.
Second, if you are feeling pressure to keep long-standing family traditions alive even though you are not enjoying the traditions anymore, try and create new traditions that serve your family and that bring you joy. An option is to try and volunteer for a cause in which you and your family believe. This might help you reconnect with a feeling of gratitude in your life by doing something to help those who are less fortunate.
Third, take a look at how you spend your time. Many of us spend a lot of time reacting to the seemingly urgent details and not attending to the truly important parts of our lives. This leaves us feeling distracted and frazzled and disconnected from our own lives and our relationships.
Fourth, don't overbook your self or your family. This time of the year would feel better for many if they would attend to what they really want to do, not just what they feel they have to do. You don't have to say yes to every thing you are asked to take care of.
Fifth, make sure you are taking care of yourself. The holidays always seem harder when we don't feel good. Make sure you continue to exercise, drink plenty of water, eat a healthy balanced diet, get enough sleep and keep the alcohol intake within reason.
Sixth, ask for help. Many people martyr themselves to make the holidays the best thing ever for their families and friends. If this has been your pattern, stop and try to create a different way to celebrate. The holidays are about bringing people together, so let others know what you need them to do and share some of the responsibilities of the season.
Finally, remember that no matter what your religious or spiritual beliefs are, there is great magic to the holiday season. In order to notice the many natural gifts that surround you, slow down and remember to open your eyes, your ears, and your heart. This season is not intended to be materialistic, so look to your spirit to guide you back to your joy.
Hopefully you can allow yourself to step back and relax and enjoy what sweetness the holiday season brings your way and give yourself a break, because sometimes the best gifts of the season are those we give to ourselves.
- Dr. Amy Vail is a psychologist with a private practice in Squaw Valley. She works with couples and individual adults and adolescents helping them find healthier and more satisfying ways to live their lives. Dr. Vail can be contacted at 530-581-2539. To submit a question for Dr. Vail, email Drvail@exwire.com, subject, Ask Dr. Vail.