Kathi Whitten, LCSW - Individual, Couple & Family Psychotherapy

There is a form of depression (or alternatively, high anxiety) often seen during winter months which concerns holiday activities.  It develops from such factors as unrealistic beliefs about what is expected from us, financial and scheduling pressures, and often, loneliness for those who are unable to share important holiday traditions with friends and family.

Every culture/ religion observes special days during winter (such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve).  These occasions are marked by certain religious or secular ceremonies, decorations, food parties, gift-giving, the sending of cards, etc.

These rituals hold special meaning to people.  Often memories from childhood or wishes to make others happy play a large role in determining how people observe them from year to year.

Yet the happiness of these traditions may be offset by tremendous stress.  Sometimes people want so urgently to create (or re-create) a particular memory or vision of how they believe it all “should be” that they get lost in efforts that may overwhelm them.

For some, the anticipation of seeing people they love feeling happy, of entertaining friends and relatives, or giving gifts can be difficult to keep within sensible limits.  Wanting to do things, give parties or gifts that are really beyond one’s financial means become anxiety-producing.

For some people, though they would be very reluctant to admit it, there can be internal pressure to out-do themselves (from one year to the next) in their food, decorating and gift-giving. Sometimes there may even develop a secret desire to out-do others with their decorating, cooking and gift-giving—thus turning a joyful celebration into an occasion for competition.

These holidays usually bring out the best in people, but it takes very little to want so much to be generous and giving, to be with people we love in happy ways, that it can tip to anxiety, fear, sadness, and even resentment when we discover we cannot achieve all that we wish—or when doing so leads to exhaustion of energy and financial resources. And most importantly, it keeps some people from even feeling present to the events going on around them, as they constantly try to do what they expect (or think others expect) of them.

Can you:

--Be honest and reasonable with yourself and others about your energy, scheduling and financial resources?

--Let others know that you might be alone on holidays—so they can invite you to join them?

--Speak up to others about making changes in your holiday routines?

--Make some time for yourself to quietly sit with a cup of tea, or journal, meditate, watch a sunrise, or some activity that is calming, and allows you to get re-centered in the midst of all the activities?

Copyright Kathi Whitten 2010