It never fails. That time change hits, the sun goes down at 5pm, and my mind is fully aware that my least favorite time of the year is about to hit.
I’ve found that I thrive from March until mid-October, and then it’s survival mode for the remaining four and a half months — the holiday season being the hardest to get through. Commercials and social media ads have programmed us to look forward to this time of year; to be grateful, to count our blessings, to enjoy the season of giving and to have holiday cheer. But at the end of the day, it can be anything but joyful for many of us.
As a mother of two young children, I find that the pressures of a festive November and December are even higher. I want to make sure that when they’re older, they can look back on these magical holiday moments and feel a warmth in their heart. What this means for me, though, is that I’ll be experiencing high amounts of stress, exhaustion and irritability at the amount of work that I feel the need to do to build these memories for my family. Is this self-inflicted? Yes. Do I try, every year, to break the cycle to no avail? Yes. And, do I find myself scrolling my social media year after year feeling like I’m still not doing enough? Also, yes.
Don’t get me wrong, I do find joy in the little things: baking cookies that are family favorites, buying thoughtful gifts for my friends that I know they’ll love, eating latkes at my mother-in-law’s house, ringing in a new year with my favorite neighbors and did I mention cookies? These little things are what gets me through the season.
I’ve also found some tried and true coping strategies that work for me. I find some time for myself to soak in the quiet after a day filled with laughter among family, I fit in a workout to rid myself of extra tension and I pull out my “happy light” because I know my energy levels need all the help they can get. After more than 10 years of feeling run down by the hustle and bustle, I’ve realized I need tools to help me survive.
In recent years, I’ve found that when I share my true feelings, even when they’re outside the norm (i.e., not enjoying the holidays), it gives others a sense of relief because they’re feeling the same way, but ashamed to share it because they think they’re the only ones.
This holiday season — among a global pandemic, civil unrest and political tensions — let’s be our authentic selves. If you’re having a hard time because you won’t be able to experience your typical traditions with family and friends, travel to your hometown or can’t afford to buy all the gifts on your holiday lists, speak up and share your disappointment. While you’re voicing your frustrations, you’re also opening the door for others to share their thoughts and feelings, which creates a circle of support and understanding. Something we all could use right now.
Jennifer Rothman is Senior Manager, Youth/Young Adult Initiatives at NAMI.