By Jayson Blair
In the classic Christmas carol playlist, Let It Snow, one of my favorites, I find myself at times fixating, out of context, on the words “no place to go.” Whether I am listening to Dean Martin, Bing Crosby or Carly Simon sing it, my mind will often move from the cheerful ode to snow to the sense of imprisonment that can come during the time of year.
Trapped by the holiday schedule. Trapped by gift buying. Trapped by the expectations of others. Trapped by the limitations on finances. Moreover, trapped, at times, by family and friends you just not might not be a delight for hours on-end.
Many of us find that the weather and depression of the season are not the only thing out there that is frightful.
For many of us, for all of the upsides of the holiday cheer, the suffocation of the season is one of the most difficult parts of this time of year, and, often, it feels as if there is no way out.
As has been countlessly noted in other places, people with depression and seasonal effective disorder often feel out of sync with the rest of the world at this time of year. As the populous at large puts on their holiday cheer, those who struggle with moods this time of year often find themselves sinking further because the gap between how everyone else is doing and how they are feeling. One seasonally affected client of mine likes to describe the holidays as a time of “doing good, but not feeling good.” For those with depression and seasonal affective disorder, this feeling of being trapped by the expectations of the holiday season can be overwhelming.
But this notion of feeling trapped is not isolated to the seasonally affected. The expectations of the season are something that everyone else can struggle with.
|The Oft Portrayed Image of the Season|
After all, how many people are worrying right now about the number of pies that they have to bake for Thanksgiving? How many are worrying about the brother, mother, cousin, mother-in-law, father or sister that they do not like being around who they are going to have to spend gobs of time with over the holidays? How many people are wondering whether they are going to be able to come up with enough money to get their daughter that American Girl doll she wants?
|The Reality for Many|
Countless blogs with humorous tips (“develop a case of amenisa,” “medicate yourself throught it,” “become a vegan right before Thanksgiving) and countless memes litter the Internet to illustrate the point.
There is little doubt that there will be pained expressions at the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner tables over the coming weeks and in the lines to buy Xbox game consoles.
Over the years, I have found that people do best over the holidays when they set boundaries, some that might lead to upsetting or dashing expectations, including, at times, our own eagerness to please.
Sometimes that thing is a gift. Sometimes it is our time. Sometimes it is a little bit out of the emotional bank that we have that is tapped out and on a path to overdraft. I would be the first to encourage you to make the most of the holidays, but when making others happy is undoing our own happiness, it is probably a good time to reevaluate our approach to life and setting of boundaries.
Setting these boundaries – with people, over your presence, your comfort, their behavior, their expectations and other matters – are a great way to make sure you get the most out of the holiday season. Having spent a Christmas dinner or two in a T.G. Fridays or a bar in New York because there was no emotionally safe place to go, has been efficiently more healthy than going through the motions at a hostile holiday dinner. Letting people know that you are tapped out – either emotionally, physically or financially – is a way to prevent others from being disappointed and from you developing resentments.
The path to happiness is sometimes paved with tears, many of them falling because we cannot give everyone everything that they want or need, and, at other times, no matter what we do, we just will not be able to make some people happy. Sometimes in life we just need to embrace our own limits and I tend to believe that this is an acute necessity this time of the year.
Identifying, embracing and staying true to what you need is the best gift you could give yourself for the holiday season.