When I was about 21 years old, my parents finalized their divorce, marking one of the most challenging experiences of my life up until that point. The impact of divorce on children, regardless of their age, is undeniably difficult, and I was no exception. Little did I anticipate that from that moment on, holidays would become obligatory family gatherings. In the first few years, I held onto hope that things would be alright, but the events were often awkward, leaving me with a strong desire to escape. To avoid being reminded of what used to be, I even contrived obligations to keep myself away from the sentimental holiday atmosphere. Additionally, from time to time, I couldn't help but notice the tension, guilt, and loneliness that were palpable in my parents' eyes, and naturally, I felt these emotions as well.
Fast forward about eight years, I am now married and have started a family of my own. My Grinch-like heart started to grow again, but just slightly. I began softening again to the holiday spirit, not because I liked the seasons, but because my kids lit up like Christmas trees.
Over twenty-one years have passed since my parents' divorce. Now, living in a different state with three kids, I must confess that holidays still feel like a chore. However, I persistently strive to love my family, pushing through the challenges. Witnessing the sheer joy my kids experience during Christmas is truly remarkable. Though I still have to remind myself to appreciate their happiness, it has become easier with each passing year!
PRO GRINCH TIP: STAY AWAY FROM THE "ELF ON THE SHELF"!
IT'S A BUNCH OF CRAP & A PAIN IN THE A$$!
I understand that many of you who are reading this may also struggle during the holidays. Rest assured, you are not alone, especially in these challenging times of economic downturn and a world filled with tension and division. However, let us not forget that Christmas is meant to be a time of celebration with loved ones, an opportunity to reflect on the joyful moments of the past, and a chance to embrace hope for a brighter future. They are a time to remind us of love, thankfulness, consumerism, overspending, lockdowns, political polarity, social discord, global conflict, and of course overeating (Sorry the Grinch came out again). Seriously though, many will entertain the guests of Sadness, Anger, Disgust, Loneliness, and Depression this year. Yep, life is not as it should be, or how we would like it.
So for those of you in this camp, fight the Eeyore belief that "I am meant to be alone", "things will never get better", or “it’s not much of a tail.” Find support, fight the lies running free in your head (ANTs - Automatic Negative Thoughts), and seek out better or different coping strategies.
"But... What if I can't think of better strategies?" Try the following! What do you have to lose?
Keep your expectations in check:
You don’t always get what you want, things go wrong, and you and your plans are not perfect, you are only in control of yourself so don’t worry about what is not in your control.
Don’t overdo it: Boundaries!!!!
Delegate, say no, simplify your schedule (yes this is a choice), plan for what matters most family, friends, pets, maybe some good food, giving if that is in your capacity, and so forth.
Keep it social, Keep it fun
Isolation is not your friend, so find some live music, and beautiful sights, go where people are, get involved, volunteer, the sky is the limit. I think it goes without saying, but avoid the Grinch-like Negative Nelly’s, no extra downers necessary!
Budget, Budget, Budget
Don’t overspend! It is a good life lesson to live within your means. Giving does not always have to be monetary. Make something, write something, sing something, be creative, and put your heart into it.
Get in the sun!!!
If the sun is not available find a sun lamp (Full Spectrum Lamp), 20 min can make a difference - This can be very helpful with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).
If you can help it maintain a healthy diet (Boundaries again!). Overeating the wrong types of foods can negatively impact your mood and energy level. You may get that nice hit of dopamine running through your brain but it doesn’t last, and for those with predispositions to overeating - these struggles can return and limit the progress you have made and/or are hoping to make.
Think Happy Thoughts Peter
Yes I know it sounds like fluff but the research coming out of the field of Positive Psychology suggests that we have greater life satisfaction when we are optimistic, express gratitude (especially in written form), and attempt to notice the good, look for it so you can continue to think positively. We tend to feel better when we have happy thoughts, and we feel worse when we have negative ones - yes this is obvious, but do you do it? I know we can’t always just “Stop It”, and retrain our brain to perceive, interpret, and think differently, takes time. But feeling better has got to be worth the effort right?!?!
Find a Reason to be Grateful
Like happy thoughts, this is a matter of effort, time, and consistency. Like happy thoughts, this can provide a little extra boost of the feel-good dopamine - Similar to overeating but nicer on the waistline, arteries, heart, energy, and so on. If we create consistent behaviors looking for reasons to be grateful we can even increase our overall emotional intelligence, frequency of positive emotions, and in some cases quality of sleep. - For more on this see my other blog "Thanksgiving is More Than a Day"
Did you know that St. Nicolas (The real Santa Claus) was a pretty giving guy, and because of his influence we have this holiday notion of giving? He would give money in socks (stockings) hanging out of windows, feed the poor, and even provide blankets and clothes. Did you know that giving creates longer-lasting feelings of satisfaction, whereas receiving is a fleeting feeling? Yup, philanthropic behaviors help to promote greater feelings of life satisfaction. A good antidote to being down in the dumps.
Alcohol… I Recommend Against
I know I know, this is the time of year to eat drink, and be merry, right? Well, remember, If you did not already know, alcohol is a depressant and can increase your stinking thinking or down feelings. I get it, sometimes holidays are hard and you just want to forget, but alcohol is like putting your head in the sand, you will eventually sober up and you will be again left with all those unforgettable emotions and memories. A good time to seek out counseling if you are in this camp - AA would be good too.
Learning to Forgive
Again, I know, it is not always that easy. This is another area in the field of psychology that researchers are digging into, especially with couples. Forgiving oneself is just as important as forgiving another. Dead or alive forgiveness is still valid and can be one of the most freeing activities… over time. There are a lot of great books out there, just do a search on Amazon and you will find more than you can shake a stick at. Remember, forgiveness is not a one-time thing, and it may require multiple attempts over a time that I cannot define.
The issue of faith, for many, can be a straining topic full of conflicting memories, ideas, and beliefs. I am not here to push any particular faith, however, I am going to advocate for faith in something more, something bigger than ourselves. The research on the implementation of faith, as per the book "Faith from a Positive Psychology Perspective" by Miller-Perrin and Mancuso, suggests increased positive: emotions, behaviors, cognition, relationships, community, and overall positive human functioning.
Coping, like anything worth having in life, takes grit, time, and intentionality. No matter the strategies you try, the ones in this article, or others, you must try them repeatedly and over time to find any success. If you're like me, you may have to force yourself like a disgruntled employee until your heart reaches a human size. So give it a solid go, it’s worth it to have less Depression and good vibes. Remember the blues make for good music, just not good rules to live by.
Eddie Eccker, MS, LMFT
Originally posted on the Voyages Counseling Blog: Edited and updated on December 11th, 2023