By Margie Nichols, Ph.D.
The winter holidays are hailed as a time for family, gift giving, and happiness, yet for many they are the most miserable time of the year. Lots of reasons for this: these days evoke memories of horrible childhood holidays that still seem to overwhelm the present; they evoke memories of wonderful childhood holidays that will never be equaled; they always fall short of the cultural expectations of the perfect, loving, connected family.
And then there are more mundane reasons: many people are sensitive to the loss of light that reaches its peak right before Christmas; many exercise less in the busy holiday season, and both light and exercise are clearly connected to depressed mood. Add to that the increased carbohydrate and alcohol intake and there can be multiple physical factors adding to the blue outlook.
This year the economy makes the season even potentially gloomier. Sales of clothing outweigh those of big ticket items for the holidays, and it is seen as an ‘economic indicator’ that more ‘Dear Santa’ letters ask for clothing and even food instead of toys.
How can you beat the ‘Holiday Blues?’ Start with ‘radical acceptance’: our imperfect human lives will never match the Photoshopped images in our head of how we think our lives should go — AND THAT’S OKAY.
Try to have a realistic attitude about the holidays and perhaps even a sense of humor about the out-sized expectations and disappointments of the season. Pay attention to your ‘light intake’ and get outside as much as possible, and make sure you keep up some exercise, if only walking. Watch your food and sleep patterns. If you are plagued by painful memories from the past, don’t try to immediately push them away. Allow the memories to move across your mind’s eye while you just notice them, and remind yourself that they are in the past. If you are bummed thinking your best days are behind you – look around and notice all the things you have to be grateful for TODAY. Chances are memory has smoothed the ragged edges of some of those memories, anyway.
And do try to connect with what might be seen as the universal ‘best’ spirit of these days. In pagan as well as modern traditions, this season is about peace, love, charity, compassion, and joy. It is about new beginnings, about the shortest day – the Winter Solstice — followed by the slow return of the light. And try to remember that this season commemorates darkness before the light, and holiday blues can, with some effort, morph into New Year’s hope and optimism.