Seasonal Dread

According to popular opinion, the holiday season is supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year. But for many, it is a dreaded, painful season. For some it’s an acute reminder that their family is dysfunctional, or uncaring or nonexistent or in particular that this year, 2020, has been a really hard year.

As humans we don’t have it easy.

I am particularly concerned for those who find the season difficult since historically in my practice, the days preceding and immediately following a holiday are spent listening to narratives about how painful holidays were and what family situation or member imposed some sort of emotional pain.

And between years with lovely holiday experiences I too have had my share of awful holidays. I have spent a good deal of time trying to understand and figure out how to better handle a tough season.

So why are holidays so hard?

For the the 15-20% of the population who are “Highly Sensitive” (Elaine Aron), family gatherings can be viscerally painful.

For those with high sensitivity, gatherings and celebrations can be overwhelming and difficult since they must deal with the sensory overload that comes with the cacophony of overstimulation from sounds, smells, conversations, vibes, food and moods in the room. Social gatherings represent challenges not necessarily joyful or fun.

Our expectations and the reality of our experiences are misaligned

For one thing, our expectations and the reality of our experiences are misaligned. Many are under the impression that others truly do have picture –perfect family situations—harmony and fun times, and that they are the sole exception if that is not the case for them.

For others, the reality is that there simply isn’t any family, or there are no family gatherings to attend for many reasons such as geographic distance or insensitivity which translates into excluding some from holiday celebrations.

And then there might be the expectation that gatherings are supposed to be enjoyable and fun, but instead might be a reminder that we all don’t get along with absolutely everyone, or that we are missing the presence of loved ones, or at that moment in time, it is just plain hard to be ther.

Families are never perfect. A gathering of people does not ensure that moods and temperaments are all in sync. People are in their own worlds which include lack of sleep, poor health, depression, anxiety and the array of human emotions.

Yes, we should be mindful and grateful of our blessings, but sadness, longing and emotional pain are all part of the human experience and might very well be present regardless of the fact that it is a holiday.

The reality is that most people do not enjoy blissful existences devoid of the everyday stuff that make everyone’s life trying. So holiday or not, stress might pervade the day. Particularly difficult are times when expectations are so different from what really does occur in family gatherings.

So, for example, work is hard, you’re sleep deprived, not feeling all that great and you are thrown together with a myriad of personalities, family, that have their own stuff going on. So it’s going to be really hard to tolerate that insensitive comment or outright harsh word.

The holiday season beams a spotlight on everything that is difficult about living with depression and anxiety and the pressure to be joyful and social is multiplied

The holidays may contribute to feeling sad, dissatisfied and financially strained, loneliness, too much pressure, and unrealistic expectations.

Many find themselves remembering happier times in the past contrasting with the present, while unable to be with loved ones.

Some facts about mental health and the holidays:

  • Alcohol is a depressant. Don’t drink when feeling stressed or down.
  • It’s a myth that suicides increase during the holidays, but suicide risks are always serious.
  • Children and teens get the blues too. The highest rate for child psychiatric hospitalizations occurs in winter.
  • If holidays were a special time in the past and you try to recreate a time long gone, you may setting yourself up for sadness. 

The good news is that there are many things that we can do to make even the most difficult holidays more tolerable. Every year during the months of October and November, we offer support and education for those who typically suffer during the holidays. 

If you’d like support and education leading up to the holidays, you can join my seasonal support group, Coping Ahead for the Holidays, or book a free session to learn more about other support options.

This information is not a substitute for professional advice from a Medical Doctor, Psychiatrist, or Licensed Counselor. The information provided by does not constitute legal or professional advice nor is it intended to be.
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Hi, I'm Lisa!

My mission is to provide high quality, evidence-based tools to meet the unique needs of individuals and families who want to create a life worth living, and coaches who want to help others do the same.

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