As psychologist Guy Winch explains, "Much as accountants' busiest time of year is tax season in April, we therapists see our practices overflow in November and December. Why? ‘Tis the season of family gatherings."
Family gatherings have the potential to help us feel connected and loved, but even within the best of family dynamics, cooking, cleaning, and coordinating schedules can be stressful. And the fact of the matter is that not every family shares the best dynamics on display in Hallmark Holiday Specials. Family gatherings can bring old wounds to the surface, and leave many feeling less connected, less understood, and alone despite the holiday crowds. For those who live far from family and friends, singles, and those who are newly separated, divorced or grieving, the family-focused holidays can be a painful and lonely time. Add these factors to the days getting shorter, the weather colder, spending less time outdoors in the sun, and it is easy to understand how the holidays can leave us feeling stressed out and blue.
The following resources can help you survive and thrive through this holiday season:
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with stress or sadness, know that you are not alone. Talking with a therapist about coping with the holidays specifically, or untangling long-standing relationship patterns, can be useful and help you move through the holidays and into the new year with less stress, more understanding of yourself and others, and more skills to navigate this time of year with more grace and less stress in the future.
Here's to a new year. Out with the old, in with the new. A clean slate. A new beginning. And often a perfect time of year to include psychotherapy as we work to change ourselves and our lives for the better.
I recently found myself in a discussion of new year's resolutions and the comedic and often fatalistic connotations they have come to imply. How long until you break your resolutions? How long until you fail? There is something lovely about a new year that lends itself to thinking of a clean slate, however the all-or-nothing thinking implied in our usual discussion of resolutions leads us to think that when we falter we might as well throw in the towel completely. Perhaps a better way of framing our best intentions involves a "theme" for the year, rather than a resolution. This could help you see the new habit, new relationship style, etc. as a work in progress that allows for up and down days, and improvement over the course of a year.
Psychotherapy is a great place to discuss these themes and how you plan to strive towards improvement and self-understanding over the coming year. Even the process of ending of therapy, known as termination, provides an opportunity to experience a happy ending (for more on this, see Dr. Ryan Howe's discussion on Ghosting Your Therapist: 4 Reasons not to Disappear). This happy ending, relationship closure done right, can be a therapeutic experience in and of itself.
With the holidays fast approaching, this can be a good time to pause and reflect on why this season of thanksgiving and joy can often be so stressful. Do you find yourself anxiously working to anticipate every detail or need in attempt to orchestrate the perfect holiday, the perfect family get together, the perfect scrapbook moment? Or are you pulled by the gnawing suspicion that no matter how hard you try, how badly you want this year to be different, that things will go wrong. Again. Just as they have so many times before?
When you find yourself pulled between these two intense emotional states and expectations, it can be easy to blame yourself for what has or what will go wrong, to feel or anticipate feeling blamed by others, or to blame others for behaving in what feels like a predictable destructive pattern.
Author researcher and storyteller Brené Brown offers wise words on the underlying meaning and fallout of this tendency to rush to blame. By blaming ourselves or others we attempt to regain a sense of control, but we also lose out on opportunities and relationships in the process.
About the Author
Clinical psychologist Dr. Kristy Novinski contributes insights, book and film reviews, discussions of pop culture, and exploration of news and research in the field of psychology.