By:  Mathew Diedrich, LSW, CADC

This is tough…acceptance is key!

Let’s face it, the holidays can be a challenge and this time of the year is really tough for a great number of individuals.  Acceptance of this is a crucial first step.  The combination of shorter days, colder weather, extra time with family or a lack thereof, and the pressure of the holiday season itself can cause us to return to old thought and behavior patterns; patterns that we’ve worked so hard to dismantle and that we’ve begun to heal from.  Today I’d like to share some tips and strategies to help you survive the final challenge of 2021…the holidays.

SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

Feeling down lately?  Less energy?  Let’s first take a look at the impact of shorter days and colder weather as we approach the winter solstice here in Chicago.  People often start to report increased fatigue, decreased motivation and energy levels, and a decrease in overall mood around September.  Unfortunately, this trend usually doesn’t begin to lighten up until the spring.  This is all very real.  Ask any one of my clients and they would agree that things tend to be tougher in the winter.  The colder weather can also cause people to isolate more often and end up disconnected from others; and most importantly, their support network(s).  I recommend all the usual stuff to combat seasonal affective disorder, including:  therapy; psychiatry (if necessary); a proper diet, exercise, and sleep; a SAD lamp (with at least 10K lux—a measurement of brightness); in addition to having something fun to do and having something to look forward to, like time off of work or a vacation.  Most importantly, stay connected!  Lean into your support networks and continue to do what helps you and makes you feel good while staying true to yourself and practicing authenticity.  If you see a psychiatrist, make sure to keep them informed, so that your medications can be adjusted as necessary.  The most important aspect here is staying connected with others and not trying to do this on your own.

Family of Origin Issues

No matter what your family of origin looks like, there is often at least some level of dysfunction!  This is okay and to be expected.  It’s the denial of the dysfunction that can cause issues for people.  For those of you that will be spending time with family over the holidays, I would encourage the following.  

  • Come up with a plan.  Book-end your visits if possible, so that you have a clearly defined arrival and departure time.  Have a backup plan as well and make sure you can leave when you feel the need to.  Take breaks and go for walks to get space when you find yourself getting worked up or heated towards a family member.
  • Practice healthy boundary setting with your family.  This can be both internal and external boundaries.  An example of an internal boundary would be not engaging with your intoxicated cousin or other family member over political issues, if you know this is an emotional trigger for you.  An example of an external boundary would be leaving by 8PM.  Remember, boundaries are for YOU, the individual that sets them!  They are a means of demonstrating self-respect, confidence, and self-esteem/worth.  If others choose not to respect a boundary you have set, feel free to create more distance from that individual.
  • Remember, you can’t change who your family members are.  Practice gratitude for the fact that you have family and loved ones to spend the holidays with, as many individuals don’t.

Chosen Family

This time of the year can also be a challenge for those without families or those who have lost family members.  Remember again to stay connected.  Speak with your therapist about grief if that’s what comes up.  Reach out to others and check in on them.  Tell your friends and family that you love them.  This is where the concept of a chosen family comes into the picture and plays a large role for many people.  Organize a gathering of friends, in place of a holiday celebration, if you want to and can.  The most important thing here is to make it your own.  Remember that you have the freedom to create your own memories and traditions at any time of the year.  Take time for yourself and stay present.  Stayed connected.  Stay in the here and now.  Practice grounding and mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, journaling, prayer, exercise, or talking with others.  I have included some links at the bottom to meditation apps.  Practice gratitude for the chosen family that you’ve created in your life.  This is the support system and these are the people that guide you daily and have helped to create the person you are today.

Pressure

The last topic that I’d like to address today is the undue stress and pressure that we place on ourselves throughout the holidays.  Developmental trauma (neglect and core needs going unmet in early childhood) can cause people to create patterns of pressuring themselves and performing for others, as a means of engagement with others.  The holidays are no exception.  Remember to stay present.  If you find yourself worrying about the future or thinking about the past, practice some grounding techniques.  Pressuring ourselves works contradictory to what we imagine.  The more weight we add to our decisions and actions, the less clear we are in our decision making.  Remember to slow down, breathe, and appreciate every moment.  

Happy Holidays…see you all in the New Year!

Resources

https://www.calm.com/

https://www.headspace.com/

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/seasonal-affective-disorder

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/seasonal-affective-disorder