Getting Through the Holidays

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

If Gremlins has taught us anything, it’s that we don’t know much about other people’s experiences and circumstances that have shaped their current belief system (and we’ve also learned about the consequences of a post-midnight snack). The scene with Kate (Phoebe Cates) telling Billy (Zach Galligan) why she doesn’t like Christmas is a famous scene for her story, but their brief argument early on in the movie is telling. Billy doesn’t understand why she doesn’t like Christmas and she’s frustrated that she needs to explain herself.

Anyone reading this has already made it through Thanksgiving, which is commendable. The fourth Thursday in November kicks off a month of lights and festivities, which are joyous to some and traumatic to others. There are many who struggle through the combination of joy and difficult moments.

Psychologist Mike Petrarca says that there are many reasons for these feelings, including loss of a loved one, previous trauma, and seasonal affective disorder. Individuals with sensory issues or who are anxious in crowds can be overwhelmed by the annual festivities of the season.

“The stressors of seeing family or extended family can be difficult for people, especially if family or extended family relationships aren’t good,” Petrarca adds. “The financial pressures of gift giving, especially for parents or those with children, may also be a stressor.”

Some would prefer to hide away instead of dealing with the agony of the season, but life (for better or worse) doesn’t work that way. This is a challenge that many will bravely battle. For those, Petrarca offers the following tips:

Be aware of your triggers and come up with a plan to try and cope as best as possible.

“If a person lost a loved one during this time of year, coping by being around supportive people can be a way to manage difficult feelings that increase around the holiday season. They can also think about ways to honor and remember their loved ones.” 

• Get involved in volunteering or take up a winter hobby.

“If a person doesn't have a lot of family/friends and is struggling with loneliness, getting involved or volunteering can be a rewarding way to meet new people and feel connected to the world as a whole. Taking up a winter hobby indoors or outdoors can help with boredom.” 

• Get as much sunshine as possible; get some exercise.

“Getting as much sunlight and exercise as possible during the winter months can be helpful to those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder or who just get more bummed out in the winter.” SAD lamps, which can expose you to the UV rays lacking in most artificial lights, are also an option. 

• • •

The preceding strategies may work as a longterm seasonal plan, but there are also moments that can become unbearable. Grief doesn’t go away and some instances can be incredibly intense. The season is busy with a lot of planning, money, and expectations. This can bring on waves of feeling overwhelmed, which can feel impossible and never-ending.

“For more acute and sudden stressors it might be helpful to have a list handy of immediate ways they can ground themselves in the moment.” Petrarca suggests putting together a list of coping mechanisms Some ideas include:

• Call a friend/family member

• Cuddle a pet

• Journal

• Exercise

• Watch a TV show/clip that evokes the opposite emotion of what you’re feeling

• Allow yourself a good cry to feel every emotion and mindfully accept it without judgment

• Try a sensory grounding method such as applying cold ice, taking a hot shower, eating something sour/spicy, smelling a soothing scent, or getting cozy under a bunch of blankets. 

“It is best to identify feelings/emotions and learn to work with them rather than avoid them,” Petrarca says. “Learning to cope with these feelings in a positive way will increase resiliency, which helps a person successfully manage this holiday season and those to come.”

It is critical to understand that it is okay to cut down on gift-giving or decline an invite. The holidays bring a lot of pressure to please everyone, which can come at the expense of already teetering mental health.

“Remember that it’s okay to spend less during the holidays,” Petrarca says. “True friends will value your presence and not how many likes your present gets them on social media. Manage your commitments in a healthy way. Realize that it’s fine to say “no” if a break in the holiday action is needed or your social meter needs a recharge.”

It is paramount to know that there are people, both personal and professional, who are willing to help and only a call or text message away. Everybody is loved and important.

“As always, please reach out for help during the holidays –utilize your social supports, mental health services, community and faith-based resources.”

For those in need of immediate help, or who are in crisis, please dial 988. Email for more info and to apply for the Trouble No More program.