by Nicole VanZuidam, MA, LMFT
As everyone is already saying, they’re “just around the corner,” the holidays. It is nearly impossible to escape the reminders as each year the red bows, holiday ads and seasonal music seem to debut earlier than the year prior. Anticipation builds for many looking forward to family traditions, holiday cheer and remembrance of faith and meaning.
In a time of such anticipation, hype and hopes, there can also be room for worry, pressure, dispute and disappointment. These things can take on new shapes in different stages of life mixed with different events taking place:
A kid wishing for a specific gift. A child hopeful mom and dad won’t fight or won’t get a divorce. A high school student dreading the questions about future plans that prompt anxiety. Fear of being the only cousin to show up again without a significant other. Knowing everyone will be congratulating your pregnant sister while you’ve not been able to conceive. Wondering what questions will be asked about your child who is struggling to find their way right now. Things feeling raw with your divorce being fresh. Hoping your estranged child will come home this year. Wondering if anyone will notice the cold interactions between you and your spouse. It's the first holiday season without your loved one or maybe wondering if it will be the last one with them. Hoping no one notices the smaller gifts this year with things being a little tight. Feelings of loneliness as your children and grandchildren make new traditions with their families. Embarrassment of forgetfulness creeping in at the worst time and reality of dementia setting in.
The holiday season is filled with so much excitement, joy, and celebration. When we are in the midst of hardship or having a difficult time, it can seem quite unrealistic for these things not to have an impact or steal some of that joy. Having to put on a mask with a “fake it ‘til you make it” attitude can take more energy than we realize. Going into the season, measure your health and take steps where needed so you do not have to feel as guarded or filtered with your energy drained, but can feel seen, known, and experience genuine joy celebrating with those you love. Consider the health of your children or loved ones and how you might step into these things together. If it is a family member you are not as close with, at least being sensitive to what their struggle might be during this time and offering space to talk or simply acknowledging a situation can give a feeling of relief that someone notices you.
Consider what your own expectations and hopes are for the holidays. Find a way for you and your loved ones to mutually share those expectations so you can prepare or make accommodations as able. This could include your family identifying one thing that is important or meaningful to each person, prioritizing those things, and allowing the pressure to do all of the extras fall away. If there are situations or questions you might be dreading at the family gatherings, think ahead about what your boundaries are and the answers you feel comfortable giving or sharing the details you choose beforehand. These are only a couple small tips, but if you find yourself feeling weighed down by all of your thoughts and emotions with the upcoming season or need as a space to address these things as a couple or family, consider therapy to help navigate and alleviate those symptoms and dive deeper to prompt lasting change. At River Counseling, we can meet you where you are, offering hope. You may schedule an appointment with the Platte office at 605-337-3444. You can also meet with one of the therapists from Sioux Falls Psychological Services or Stronghold Counseling from your own computer or smartphone. To schedule an appointment please call 605-334-2696.