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Holiday (Pandemic) Blues

Dec 18, 2020

We are in the middle of what Andy Williams told us years ago is “the most wonderful time of the year.”  For many of us, the holiday season is fun and joy filled.   For some, however, the holidays bring stress and sadness. This year in particular, some of us may find it very difficult to find joy.

When I was a child, my Grandmother used to get very upset at the holidays.  As we progressed through December, she would get more and more distressed. I asked her once why she was so sad.  She told me that her childhood memories were of her Mother working twice as hard as usual to provide the best Christmas she could provide.  It broke my Grandmother’s heart to know how hard her Mother tried to make everything perfect in Depression-era America.  My Grandmother did not associate the holidays with joy.  She only felt the hard work, stress and desperation.

Unless you crawl under a rock after Thanksgiving dinner and stay there until after the New Year, we are all bombarded with messages of the holidays.  We are told that we must be joyful and spend our money on the latest gadget or toy.  Even a visit to the grocery store reminds us of the impending celebrations with colorful displays on every aisle.

But, what happens when we don’t feel these joyous feelings that society deems acceptable? Feeling down is a double whammy: first– feeling down is not a fun experience, and second– you fight against it, ignore it, or will it away to be in line with the holiday spirit, which often will have the exact opposite effect you are looking for and you end up feeling worse.

Many people can feel isolated and lonely during the holiday season. Older people can have a particularly difficult time. While growing older brings with it the wisdom of age, there is also the inevitable losses that come to even the healthiest people. Many of the losses are emotional and social. Spouses become ill or die. Other aging relative and friends become ill, or die. Neighbors change, children move away, parents die.  In 2020, we’ve added social distancing and isolation to this mix.

If you are struggling with feelings of loss and/or isolation this holiday season here are a few things you can do that may help:

  1. Make reasonable expectations about your mood. You know the losses you’ve experienced, the changes in tradition that sadden you, and/or other emotional distress. Don’t deny it, find a safe person to talk with about it. At worst, you might be able to “muddle” through, as my mom says. At best, you may find peace with how things are now.
  2. Don’t judge your emotional state. It’s easy to do because there is a lot of pressure to be happy and joyous this time of year. If you aren’t feeling emotionally light and joyous, accept it. The irony is, acceptance of a difficult emotional state creates a little space for joy to seep in.
  3. If you are able, do some volunteer work or find a way to assist a friend or neighbor. Helping others will give you a reprieve from your own difficulties.
  4. Let go of past resentments, even if it’s just for the holiday. Have you been angry with your brother, sister, cousin, or child? Give them a call. Don’t bring up the hurt, just say hello and wish them a happy holiday.

It’s not just society that pushes a positive emotional state this time of year, we do it to ourselves. There is always something to be grateful for. Although gratitude might not take away true sadness, maybe it will help make it more tolerable. So be honest with yourself, and tap into whatever gratitude you may discover.

If you simply cannot find joy by yourself, let someone help you. The Crisis Counseling Assistance Program is a phone call away at 888-215-4920. You do not have to do this alone.