Holidays are supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, filled with cheer, joy, and nothing but Hallmark moments. The reality, however, often looks and feels quite different. People are stressed, lonely, overwhelmed, or anxious. It doesn’t help that it is colder and darker outside and that many people in Moab lose their source of income once the tourist season ends.
For some families, holidays are particularly sad because they lost a loved one over the last years and the festivities make their loss even more apparent. Holiday traditions from past years bring back painful memories or have lost their meaning altogether. For the sake of other family members, particularly when children are involved, people try to keep things cheerful. But, as a friend of mine recently said, “my heart just isn’t in it.”
Some people have no family or friends with whom to spend the holidays. They dread this time because they feel their loneliness even more than on other days. It is particularly hard to be alone during a time when everybody and everything is focused on family. Other people might have family but they don’t enjoy spending time with them due to conflicts or resentments. Even though they might be surrounded by people, they feel alone.
So what can you do to make this holiday season a positive experience? Probably the most important step is to plan ahead. What was difficult for you in previous years and what do you think will be a challenge this time? What has worked in the past and what hasn’t? What is really important to you and what is just something you do because it’s expected? If you are part of a family, sit down with everybody and talk about these questions. If you come up with good ideas or strategies, make sure to communicate them as much as necessary. ..
One important aspect to keep in mind is to “cover the basics”. Make sure you get enough sleep, make some time to exercise (or at least to go outside) and make room for some healthy snacks. Do your best to not overdo it on sugar, fat, or alcohol. Leave some time in between cooking, eating, visiting with relatives, and performing other tasks to read, play a board game, talk to each other, or meditate – whatever else helps you to calm down and relax.
If you don’t have money for expensive presents, talk to your children or other family members early about your limits and come up with different gift ideas. Give the gift of time instead of spending money. Vouchers for babysitting, yard work, or time spent together are often more appreciated than another CD or scarf. It doesn’t help anybody if you can’t pay your bills in January.
Grief and loneliness are often even more difficult to deal with than financial problems. It can be helpful to change long-term traditions and try something totally different. For example, instead of cooking an elaborate dinner, invite people for a potluck or go out to eat. If you don’t feel like decorating the house for Hanukah or Christmas by yourself, ask a friend over to do it together.
If you don’t have friends or family in town, you can call local churches or other organizations and inquire about gatherings throughout the holiday season. This might be a wonderful opportunity to meet new people or to reach out to others who struggle. If you don’t feel like reaching out, it is okay to be by yourself and treat yourself well, too. Watching your favorite movie, taking a bubble bath, or cooking your favorite meal are some good ways to be kind to yourself and to have a good time.
Ideally, the holidays shouldn’t be about decorations, presents, and the perfect dinner but rather about family, friends, and gratitude. If you change your expectations accordingly, you can lower your stress level and will be more able to enjoy this time. If you struggle with that, particularly if you experience mental health problems or other issues already, please don’t hesitate to reach out and get help. Moab is an amazing community with many resources, but nobody can help you if they don’t know what you need.
Wishing you peaceful holidays and a good start into 2018!
(Antje Rath is a Clinical Mental Health Counselor with her own practice [Sunrise Counseling] located at the Moab Regional Hospital. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org)