It's Okay to Not Feel Jolly
Taking a few simple steps can help with holiday blues.
Posted December 10, 2018
The Christmas decorations hit the store shelves before Halloween this year, and the Black Friday sales crept forward even further, beginning before Thanksgiving in many cases. Maybe the Tim Burton movie, The Nightmare Before Christmas, was more prescient than we realized, and we are headed for a generalized holiday disorder, where the last quarter of the year becomes a consumer free-for-all. By Christmas Eve, we will have had months of over-stimulation, marked by compulsive spending and enforced quality time with relatives. In the words of Clark Griswold of the now immortal Christmas classic, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, “We're gonna press on, and we're gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny f*****g Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white a** down that chimney tonight, he's gonna find the jolliest bunch of a**holes this side of the nuthouse.”
But seriously, Christmas is manifestly not a happy time for a lot of people. Jeanine Connor, writing in Therapy Today in 2014, cites a few alarming facts from the UK’s Office of National Statistics:
There are 20 percent more deaths in December than any other month, commonly caused by road traffic accidents, fires, falls and poisoning. Women are 12 percent more likely to be murdered in December, while for men the probability increases by 5 percent. Figures for matricide and infanticide rise by 25 percent in the two-week period between Christmas Eve and Twelfth Night, while there are 33 percent more incidents of domestic abuse on 25 December alone than on any other day of the year. We know that alcohol is a significant risk factor and consumption almost doubles in December, up by 41 percent on other months.
I won’t go to the trouble of rehashing the statistics for the U.S., but I imagine the same pattern holds for most Western, industrialized countries, not to mention the increased risk of suicide.
And yet no one ever sends a Christmas card saying, “Congratulations, your risk of death has now hit a peak for the year!” And then there are those who will receive no gifts or cards of any sort, either due to poverty or complete estrangement from family and friends. We often forget that the holidays can be a hard time for those who may have lost a loved one during the year or who may not have any family or friends in the first place. Sometimes the Hallmark card expectations do not match up to the reality of loneliness, and the tidings of great joy ring hollow because of the fractured nature of many families today. And yet the holidays don’t seem to be going anywhere, so we may as well make them as humane as we possibly can.
The Harvard Mental Health Letter recommends adapting the holidays to make them less stressful: “Sometimes people opt for a simpler celebration. They go out to dinner instead of planning an elaborate meal at home. Or they schedule a trip or an outing.” Volunteering or taking some physical exercise can also be a good antidote for the holiday blues. Anything that keeps us from dwelling on troubling issues can be helpful. We have to remember as well that traditions, after all, are things that we do. They are not set in stone. Any year can be a good year to start a new tradition, like going for a 5k run or taking a walk around the neighborhood. Taking a break from the shopping and eating can be just the sort of break that our minds and bodies need in the midst of the celebrations. And sometimes, when things get bad, we need to ask for professional help during the holiday season.
My favorite Christmas song is “In the Bleak Midwinter,” which some people find rather dirgelike and depressing. I think it is okay for our moods to be a little somber and even dark sometimes. It’s the pressure to be happy and jolly that makes the holidays more difficult. What if we could just, you know, be how we are? It’s okay to be alone at the holidays, and it is okay to eat Chinese takeout on Christmas Eve. Not everyone has a big family, and most of our lives don’t look like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. We need holidays so that we can rest and recuperate, so let’s not make things any more angst-ridden than they need to be. Let’s make the holidays an actual break where we relax rather than get even more uptight than usual.
It’s okay to not feel especially magical at this time of year. Maybe you are having a blue Christmas, as we all do one year or another. Just know that millions of other people are feeling exactly the same way. And, when it comes down to it, this season will pass. Don’t put pressure on yourself to feel some way that you do not feel. Don’t feel like you have to connect with someone if you just can’t bring yourself to do it. Take a little bit of time for quiet reflection, if nothing else. Look after the health of your body and mind as another year closes. Then the holidays will be truly worth celebrating.
Handling holidays and difficult times. Harvard Mental Health Letter. December 2011.
Connor, Jeanine. So this is Christmas. Therapy Today. December 2014, Vol. 25 Issue 10, p7.