Oh, There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays! Or, Maybe There Is?

3 min read

Sometimes, I feel like Black Friday is the most aptly named day of the holiday season. Used to signify the start of the holiday season, you can now expect to be inundated with cheerful Christmas carols, bright lights, and the mad dash into excessive-consumerism-to-prove-your love. Let’s pause for a minute and reflect on the name Black Friday.

Sounds Ominous, Doesn’t It?

For many of us, what’s packaged as being “the most wonderful time of the year” might actually be the darkest. The holidays are centered around time with family, food, and presents. It sounds lovely in theory, but the sad reality is that this time of year is actually a time of grieving for many. Grief can mean literally grieving loved ones who have died, but can also be more abstract. Some of us grieve family units that once were but no longer are. We grieve the loss of childhood innocence that added to that holiday magic. We grieve for places that were once home but now exist only in memory. We grieve financial limitations that inhibit our ability to harness the spirit of giving.

If any of this resonates with you—just know you’re not alone. There is a huge body of evidence that supports this time of year causes increased rates of depression and anxiety. Anecdotally, in my 6 years in practice, I have witnessed it firsthand. Why is this? Well, I have a theory:

Intergenerational trauma is the real pandemic that doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it should. Although we would like to all be thrilled to gather with family, the reality is that this can feel daunting. If the thought of spending time with family is filling you with more dread than holiday cheer, here are some ways you can protect your mental health:

  1. Set firm boundaries: We all have that one aunt who just loves to pinch our midsection and comment on our “holiday weight,” right? No, Aunt Carol, unfortunately, this is not my “holiday weight,” this is just what I look like. Feel empowered to put guardrails around sensitive topics, and then be a broken record. This might sound like “I’m not talking about that with you” and any time the topic is broached, this is the same answer that is given. Over and over and over.

  2. Listen to your body: The holidays are a time for excess on all fronts. In many cultures (On a personal note, I am looking at you, Italian people!) leaving food on your plate is seen as disrespectful: “Why didn’t you finish your lasagna? What, you don’t like it? I cooked it all day! Eat more” Sound familiar? In the same way, you want to have a broken record phrase for boundaries around conversations, have some for food too. Acknowledge what food represents to the cook (love, care, etc.), but decline all the same. It might sound something like “Nonna, I can taste the love in the lasagna. It’s my favorite food and I have loved every bite. I’m feeling so full right now though and I want to listen to my body. Make me a to-go box instead? That way, I can really enjoy it”.

  3. Protect your energy: In a similar vein to setting boundaries, don’t overcommit to holiday gatherings. If all you have to offer is a few hours on Christmas morning, then so be it. We all know that feeling when you’re on Hour 8 of sitting on grandma’s sofa and you’re just praying dessert is served soon so you can slip out the back door. If your family questions why you’re leaving early, simply share that you’re not feeling well. We are still in the COVID age, and nobody wants to get sick on Christmas, right?

  4. Appreciate and validate the chosen family in your life: We have no say in what family we are born into, and we are limited in our ability to make people change. Sometimes we have to make the hard choice to go no-contact with our family of origin for our own well-being. Knowing it’s for the best doesn’t make it any less painful. However, we have the capability to embrace the idea of chosen family. Maybe that’s you, your partner, and your pets. Maybe it’s your best friend who has become more like a sibling. Whatever the composition, the connection is no less authentic just because there isn’t necessarily a relation.

Most importantly, be kind to yourself this holiday season. If this is a time that brings up conflicted feelings, make space for all of them. There is no one right or wrong to feel this season. Do what you need to do to create that holiday cheer for yourself—even if it’s not what you think it “should” look like. The only thing you SHOULD be doing is taking care of yourself and embracing the many forms this can take.

About Sarah Taormino

Sarah Taormino is the Clinical Director for Lifeologie Henderson, as well as an LCPC. She works primarily with adolescents and adults seeking to work through life transitions, LGBTQIA+ issues, relational conflict and dysfunction, self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.

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