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  • Writer's pictureJulie Love

Ahh, the Holidays

Last weekend, we spent each day deciding, “not today; maybe we can feast tomorrow.” My husband was sick, I caught his cold, and our daughter was hospitalized. Finally Sunday I just cooked the bird and told everyone to swing by and make plates whenever. It wasn’t just that our fridges were full of supplies, there was this tangible expectation that we were supposed to have a feast, whether anyone wanted to or not.

The holidays are like that. There’s a lot of expectations, a lot of enforced celebration, and a lot of what’s wrong with you? aimed at those who don’t or can’t join in. When a person’s pain is acknowledged, it’s often in the form of assuming the holiday will fix it. Look – I did all this to cheer you up. Now, do your part – be cheerful already!

We need to remember that there are many variables impacting another’s ability to appreciate holiday events, ranging from stress and distraction to symptoms of often chronic mental illnesses. Tips to help navigate specific diagnoses might be good for everyone (often the case), esp. since you might not know what others are dealing with.

Grief. Many are grieving lost loved ones, and the holidays frequently renew grief that may have faded. If that person made holidays more joyful, their absence is acutely felt; if the relationship was more fraught, then the loss solidifies the fact that the perennial hope that “maybe this year would be better” will never be realized.

o Follow their lead, with broad openings like “How are you doing?” If they are struggling to not show their sadness, tell them it’s fine, it makes sense to be sad. Provide private space for that, and be willing to join them there. Let them know they aren’t the only one who remembers the absent person.

Depression. This is a month when their brain chemistry leaves them less able to feel the joy visible all around, and also presents a gauntlet of expectations to “cheer up” lest they disappoint those around them.

o Tell people that you’re glad they’re there, making it clear that it’s okay if they aren’t cheerful. You still value them, the whole of them – not just the happy parts.

Anxiety. The holiday season offers a smorgasbord of worries to draw on – from facing crowded social events to performances to fear of failure in a wide variety of ways.

o Help them keep their coping skills toolkit stocked and handy, remind them of what they can do to reduce rising anxiety, encourage them to pace themselves and not take on too many triggers at once, and model/reflect feeling proud of their accomplishments rather than focusing on what they didn’t manage.

ADHD. Surrounded by stressed people who want them to be less impulsive, less excited, less enthusiastic – all while in a whirlwind of sensory stimulation designed to increase temptation, excitement, and enthusiasm. Whee.

o Maintain routines, provide outlets for energy and frequent small joys to anticipate (Advent Calendars are great for ADHD). For older kids and adults: make a list of your plans and notice overcommitment.

Substance Abuse or Eating Disorders. They face a parade of people and events encouraging them to “eat, drink and be merry.”

o Have some traditions that don’t focus on food. Offer a variety of drinks, and never push (questions, tease) a person who declines alcohol.

Stress (e.g. everyone).

o Lower your standards. Enjoy what you manage to do, don’t worry about the rest.

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