Dealing with Tough Times During the Holiday Season

     When thinking of Christmas and the holiday season, a few images come to mind. Christmas lights, hot cocoa, gifts, and family. The holiday season is one full of joy. And while the holidays themselves are joyful for many, tough times and situations from previous months aren't excluded or wished away during this magical time. In fact, the holiday season can be a reminder of all that has been lost for some. Personal problems, painful memories, and hurtful events still exist. The year 2020 has proven this concept of hardships sticking around time and time again. 

     If you're like me and many others dealing with a tough year and holiday season, you aren't alone. You aren't ungrateful. You're human, and it's okay to need help and not be totally ok, even during a "joyful" season. Here's some of my personal coping mechanisms I've found useful when it comes to dealing with tough times during the holiday season. 

     First, understand it is ok to not be ok. You don't need a reason to not be ok, holidays can just be tough in general. According to a study by Healthline in 2015, 62% of people surveyed found their "stress level as 'very or somewhat' elevated" during the holiday season.

     Personally, I found that the more I tried to suppress my negative emotions, the more they festered into something worse rather than if I had just dealt with them in the moment. Pretending to be happy isn't healthy, even for the holidays. Happiness takes work year-round, and needing help finding it is ok. 

     Do something you know you're good at. When I feel down during the holidays, I try to work towards something I am good at. For me, that's writing. I work on my resume, I look for writing opportunities, or I write creatively for my own enjoyment. If I feel like my writing isn't great, I try to play an instrument. If I feel frustrated with both of those attempts, I do something simple like cleaning my room. 

     Make a list for the New Year of future plans, even small ones. 2020 has truly kicked everyone's butt in some way or another. Making a list for 2021 can seem like a daunting task, at least for me personally. It feels like setting up things that will be taken away from me. But I've learned making a "small goal" list can actually be quite relaxing. It elevates my mood and makes me feel hopeful. Fun goals that no one can take from me. For example, I planned a photoshoot with my friends for 2021. I'm going to get Dunkin with a friend one day. The small, fun goals elevate spirits.

     Helping Others really does bring happiness, despite how cheesy it may sound. With COVID-19 our ways to help others in need have changed somewhat, but a simple dollar donation to a trusted charity can lift your spirits. Making or buying gifts to give to your friends, family, or a stranger in need can help as well. Even something as simple as sending a text or meme to a friend and checking in on them is also a way you can help during a lonely holiday season.

     Watching comfort shows. One of my favorite ways to get through sadness during the holidays is by watching my favorite TV shows. While some of my favorites, like "Shameless" or "New Girl," are just plain funny at some points, seeing a character get through their own trials and troubles makes me feel hopeful I'll get through my own some day. Another reason comfort shows can be helpful are that they remind me of times I first started watching a certain show. They were either cheerful, or another dark period. Rewatching my favorite shows can remind me I've been through times just as tough, but I will get through it. And I will be happy again.

     Tough times are, like their name, tough. Even as a holiday enthusiast myself, the tough times I experienced this past year aren't erased because of the joy and sparkle of Christmas. But something I keep close to my heart is a question I heard a long time ago. 

     "Have you ever been through a situation or time so hard that it felt like things would always be this way?"

     The answer, I have. But it got better. I wasn't joyful overnight, but it did get better. Even if my situation didn't change, my heart did somehow. And yours will too, with work and support. Don't be afraid to ask for help, your feelings are valid. The holiday season isn't a "get out of sadness" free card. It's ok to not be ok. 

https://neuro.hms.harvard.edu/harvard-mahoney-neuroscience-institute/bra...