In part 1 of this post, I shared about the emotional struggles that I sometimes experience at Christmas time. I identified two possible reasons why this may happen, and gave suggestions of how to cope. To read it you may click this link:
Today, I will discuss three more reasons why a person may feel sad at Christmas, along with possible coping strategies. Perhaps you will be able to identify with some of these ideas.
3. Changes over time create feelings of loss.
As people grow older, the dynamics of a family change dramatically. There are marriages, addition of children, and deaths. Someone in the family may have grown ill. Perhaps people have moved away, or choose not to be involved with the family any more. Children may have left the nest. Divorces may have occurred. Parents may have grown old and are unable to host gatherings in their home, so alternate arrangements have to be made. The home you grew up in may have been sold. Maybe you used to always get together on Christmas Day, or always had brunch, or always gave each other gifts, and for some reason this cannot happen anymore. All of these changes over time, normal as they may be, can create feelings of loss. Christmas just isn’t the way it used to be…and that hurts.
I would suggest that you acknowledge the loss, and give yourself permission to mourn it if needed. You may want to read this post, which discusses how the passage of time can lead to emotional pain.
Keep those old, good memories locked away somewhere, and treasure them. You could reminisce by looking at photos or videos of past Christmases, or putting a scrapbook together to preserve them. If someone you love has passed on, how may you cherish their memory? Perhaps you could make a donation in their name. Or create or purchase an ornament to place on the Christmas tree in their honor.
And finally, don’t let your grief blind you to the good things happening in the present. Some time in the future, today’s Christmas may become the ‘good old days’ for you or your children. Love your people while they’re here, as best as you possibly can.
4. Expectations and hopes may lead to feelings of overwhelm.
The holidays have been romanticized to a level of perfection that is usually unreachable. This is very easy to be drawn into, even if you strive to keep things simple. There is so much build-up to the various events and trimmings of Christmas and New Year’s: the baking, the cooking, the gifts, the tree, the decorations, the parties, the gatherings, the sparkling eyes of children, and the thrill of romantic relationships. In Christmas movies and jewellery commercials, each detail comes together with absolute perfection. However, this is not an expectation that is healthy to bring into real life.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, is there something you can cut from your schedule? Although I love Christmas baking, there have been some years when I haven’t done any of it, and just bought chocolates instead. Last year, for Christmas Day dinner, my family and I had taco salad. We all enjoyed it, and nobody had to stress or slave in the kitchen.
If your gift-buying budget is small, perhaps you can cut a few people from your list. Siblings? Nieces and nephews? Your child’s teachers? Do they all need gifts? Would a simple card suffice? If appropriate, you may want to inform them in advance of any changes: “I’m feeling overwhelmed with Christmas preparations, and our finances are strained. I won’t be able to buy a gift for you this year.”
Thankfully, I think that children in particular can be satisfied with very little. They usually don’t need the largest or most expensive gifts to be pleased on Christmas morning. We’ve cut back on what we spend on our kids, and I don’t expect them to be any less happy because of it.
5. The holidays can be physically draining.
The children are home from school, so the house is busier. You may be travelling long distances, or staying away from home. Get-togethers with friends and family go on for many hours, and you go to bed later. You have additional responsibilities such as shopping for and wrapping gifts, cleaning, decorating, hosting, cooking, and baking. Depending on where you live, it may be colder and darker outside, like it is where I am. If so, you may not get much fresh air, sunshine, or exercise. You may consume more sweets, junk food, and alcoholic beverages than usual, while not having time for your usual self-care routines. These things, taken together, impact your physical well-being and increase your tiredness, which can significantly impact your mood.
Perhaps this is a simplified answer, but a good sleep can do wonders. If you get a chance to grab an early bedtime, or an occasional nap, go for it!
Regarding exercise – I have found that the most difficult part of getting active, or bundling up and going outside, is getting started. But when I do, I feel physically better for the entire day! If the weather is nice, I may take my kids tobogganing or skating. If I’m just too wimpy to brave the cold, I enjoy about 30 minutes of brisk walking on our treadmill. Do what works for you, and reap the benefits!
And since it is potluck season, remember that healthy foods are welcome additions to table spreads that usually contain an overabundance of fatty, sugary, carbohydrate-laden foods. Bring a tray of fruit or vegetables, and watch it be devoured! Maybe you’ll even eat some of it yourself.
This list, of course, is not comprehensive. But if you are struggling emotionally, I believe there is great value in acknowledging that fact, identifying what the causes may be, and taking whatever steps you can to address them. Even when you do these things, however, the holidays may still be stressful and difficult! All we can do is our best, as we try to focus on the blessings in our lives.
I pray that God will give you peace this season, and infuse Christmas with the kind of meaning that circumstances and emotions cannot deplete!
With the warmest of wishes,