Facing the Holidays When You Feel So Alone
Here’s a different way to think about it!
Posted December 17, 2016
Here we are again! The Holidays! Joyous for some but for others they come with a pit in your stomach! It’s a season that’s tough to deal with when you’re depressed, fatigued, uninterested in the busy-ness of the season and the smiles on other’s faces. You’re not alone in this. It’s especially true if you have extended family or friends who expect you to join them in holiday activities. Their enthusiasm and high energy can be overwhelming, sometimes oppressive, when you are struggling so just to keep it together day-to-day. You dread the interactions, then feel guilty for having those feelings, afraid they’ll think you’re not appreciative of including you in their plans. If you do attend a seasonal event while grumpy underneath, you may feel like a fraud for even showing up. Or you might stand back, miserable, watching others appear to laugh and frolic.
And what if you are among those who truly do not have a large network of family or friends to surround you? Perhaps you live in a different part of the country from your family and cannot afford the time away from work or school or the money to travel. Maybe you’ve had a falling out with them or your beloved ones have passed away. Perhaps your circle of close friends has dwindled following your illness and you are left feeling quite alone. Acknowledge those losses you might have, allow yourself time to grieve, and then move on and try to focus on the present moment using mindfulness techniques.
The media often makes these feelings at the holidays seem worse. Television, magazines, and the internet blare images of groups of seemingly happy people gathering together in celebration of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas or New Year’s Eve. When you’re depressed, this visual image seems to be present everywhere you go, with little or no escape from it. It’s often easy to forget that this is just an image created by actors and not reality, and that there are many people who have just a few close personal connections similar to your own situation. Social media puts additional pressure on us, as most people who post want to portray themselves in a positive (and biased) view. It’s easy to forget that, in reality, most people have valid stressors and imperfect lives, some have physical and emotional impairments, family disagreements, difficult children or elderly parents or financial woes and are not as “jolly” as the media image depicts. For a lot of people, sitting at a big family dinner or going to the company’s holiday party is not exactly the grand time you might imagine. How do you get through this time of year when you feel so apart from those you see in your town?
First, this is one of those times to do a fact check. Feelings are not facts. Sit for a moment and think of the facts. Ask yourself who you know well personally, and what your relationship with them is. Focus on the facts, ask yourself who stands by you through thick and thin, whose company you enjoy. Those are the people to spend time with. Here is where the quality of friendship wins over quantity (the number of people you know). Remind yourself that you are not alone, that there are people who do care for you even if at times it might not seem to be so. Remind yourself that there are others who also have a small, not large, network of family and close friends to support them. Not everyone has the life depicted in a Norman Rockwell painting – that’s just “feel good” advertising created for the Saturday Evening Post! Make an effort to connect with your own circle of friends, no matter how small. That’s especially important to do right now. Maybe it’s time for a special lunch together, or hosting a quiet evening at home. Create your own traditions. Try to resist the artificial desires raised by the media and just enjoy each other’s company.
Beyond that, some people find it helpful to reach out to others in need at this time of year. Many volunteer organizations are looking for assistance and are grateful to receive your help right now. You may find that in giving your time to others you, too, receive something positive in return. Perhaps your church, synagogue or local community center has an organization for this purpose that you can participate in. Things like food or clothing drives, toys for children in need, reaching out to the disabled and elderly. Give of yourself, with a warm and genuine attitude, and it will be dearly appreciated. It could be as simple as sorting and organizing gently worn winter coats, hats and gloves; wrapping and delivering toys for children in foster homes or shelters; or delivering food to a shut-in. Try it if you are able and you may be surprised by the results.
Lastly, make sure to take good care of yourself. Stick to the basics of mental health even though you may not feel like doing so. Keep up a regular routine and structure to your day, eat healthy meals, and maintain a regular pattern of sleep and daily exercise. Don’t forget your medications, and limit your caffeine and alcohol intake. Remember that it’s also very important to keep up with your social contacts and not isolate yourself, so pick up the phone and call a friend. You might make someone’s day!
A version of this article was previously posted on my website www.susannoonanmd.com