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The Pressure to be Merry

Holiday to do list

You walk into a store and see picked over pumpkins, leaves, and turkey decorations strewn haphazardly around what appears to be Santa’s workshop. The staff is taking the time to put up and decorate a large evergreen tree, complete with tinsel, ornaments, and fake gifts while “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” plays on repeat over the store’s speakers. How do you react?

Some people embrace the holidays with open arms, welcoming this time to be joyous, practice gratitude, and connect with friends and family. Some will think “it’s too soon,” but will continue on with their errands, only slightly bothered by the influx of holiday reminders, while others may feel like crying, running out of the store, and hibernating until mid-January.

Whether we want it to or not, it’s happening. Holiday decorations, lights, and music are starting to take over stores, neighborhoods, and radio stations. Take a moment to check in with yourself. How are these holiday reminders impacting you?

For many people struggling with addiction, trauma, and mental health concerns, the holidays bring with them a wealth of anxiety. While you see other people getting into the holiday spirit, you may struggle to find a sense of joy, triggering feelings of guilt and shame associated with not meeting the perceived pressure to be merry. Are you worried about how you are going to stay sober over the holidays? Are you obsessing about how to avoid the conflict that will absolutely be present at the dinner table when Aunt Martha shows up? Are you flooded with grief and memories of loved ones who can’t be physically present this holiday season? Are you struggling financially and trying to find the words to tell family and friends that you won’t be participating in gift exchanges or are you contemplating going into debt to make sure they get a present? Are you geographically or emotionally separated from your loved ones and struggling with an overwhelming sense of loneliness this time of year?

Over the next several weeks, I will be sharing some realistic tools that can help you get through the holiday season. Please be sure to check back every Sunday to read the weekly blog posts for some helpful tools to fight the holiday blues. Or, you can like and follow UnchARTed Territory on Facebook for direct links to the weekly blog posts.

This week, I want you to think about the expectations you have for the holidays. Write them down. It can be immensely helpful to take a step back and review your list, separating the expectations you have into two categories: “expectations I put on myself” and “expectations others put on me.” Some examples may include sending holiday cards, buying gifts, baking, decorating your house, and attending social gatherings. The list goes on and on.

Once you have your list and can identify where the expectations are coming from, it will be easier to take a step back and notice what is truly necessary. Listen to your gut. What will be helpful for you? Which of the activities bring you joy? Are you doing the things on your list for you or for other people? Whose expectations are these?

Take some time to reflect on any expectations you can let go of this holiday season. Remember that your self-care and your recovery are the best gifts you can give to yourself and your loved ones – even if that means bypassing some holiday traditions. Be gentle with yourself and do what you can to reduce the anxiety and discomfort that you may be experiencing.

And, as always, feel free to contact me for a free phone consultation to see how therapy can help you fight those holiday blues. I wish you peace this holiday season.

#holidays #holidayblues

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