November 27, 2013

How to “Really” Beat The Holiday Blues & Suffering.

Eight Things We All Need to Know.

A few years ago, I started to hate the Holidays.

Well, maybe that is too strong a word, but feelings like anxiety, pain, suffering and stress are entirely accurate. And did I mention depression, fear and angst, peppered with a touch of insanity?

This was a tragedy I believed. And like all tragedies, this also meant that guilt was involved because I believed my sorry state was somehow my fault . . . and that if I were only a better and more evolved person, I could avoid such nonsense and be happier.

How could I not feel happy during the Holidays?

I pondered this while crying all the way through during “It’s a Wonderful Life” because mine seemed everything but wonderful.

I once even cried while watching “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” because for the first time in my life I felt more like The Grinch than “Cindy Lou Who“, who is not more than two. This included becoming jealous of Cindy because she is eternally young. Someone put me out of my misery!

How could I “not smile” as I strolled through my neighborhood of blinding twinkling Christmas lights, wintery dressed children with rosy cheeks, promises of baked homemade pies, overstuffed turkeys and brightly wrapped gifts I could not afford?

Was I turning into the Scrooge?

And what about the Holiday cards I received from my very own postman, realtor and lawyer; hearing sexy Frank Sinatra Christmas songs, smelling evergreen-scented car fresheners and paying more than $5.00 for seasonal Starbucks drinks that have more calories than a Big Mac?

I must truly be insane I thought, or at least emotionally demented to not be happy about all of that! Yes, my new-found Holiday Blues were definitely a downer.

After all, I was the “always chipper” middle girl of my family, the “hostess with the mostest”, the Jewish Christmas Elf who bought festive gifts for all who came for Holiday feasts, the perfect mother of three perfect daughters, the “garlic mash potato queen”and a woman who smiled nonstop from three weeks before Halloween all the way through a week after New Years Eve, even when I was really suffering.

Basically, I was exhausted for three months each year, after which I would have my annual mini-nervous breakdown right before my birthday, after which I would have another one while questioning my life’s purpose. If you figure out what my life’s purpose is, have your people call my people.

But it turns out I’m not alone. And while this fact does not change my anxious Holiday self, at least I don’t feel crazy that I feel this way, as there is some safety in numbers. That has always been a great lie that I believe in.

At first I blamed my Holiday Blues on “having too much to do” with all of the hustle and bustle, three kids, trying to keep an impossible budget, and crossing everything off my never-ending list of things to do, which included taking time out for myself each day.

My family also drove me batty. After all, they did not appear to be anything like other families, which was entirely my misconception about families because there is no “normal” or “regular” family.

Like a lot of you, I had been living in my own fantasy-bubble of doomed expectations, comparing myself to everyone else, putting pressure on yours truly to be classy even when I felt like anything but, and all the while not enjoying the moment because I was so fearful of what would happen next.

Because last year was my last straw, meaning that I truly enjoyed nothing at all about the Holidays, and I contemplated and meditated deeply about how to “not only not be miserable” but maybe even happy, relaxed and especially to be of better service and company to those around me.

And in order to do that, I had to first figure out how to beat my annual Holiday Blues, which I did after a lot of work.

Whether you are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, none of the above, all of the above, or a combination like me which happens to be a Buddhist Jew, I hope the following pieces of wisdom for fighting the Holiday Blues helps you.

Ten Ways to Beat The Holiday Blues

1) Lower Your Expectations and You’ll Raise Your Joy

Most of the Blues I experience this time of year comes from having unrealistic expectations.

Example: The expectation that we should feel happier just because it is the Holiday season. If anything, it is more stressful and chaotic. If you stop expecting happiness at every moment and instead, “just go with the flow” and allow yourself the normal emotions of your life, you will feel better all around.

Tip: Take a half hour each day to check in with yourself and remember it is okay to feel overwhelmed because you are only human. And remember to laugh at yourself and not take yourself things so seriously. This too shall pass.

2) Say No When You Need to

I know this is a hard one as we want to make everyone happy during this season, but learning to say “No” can actually benefit others as much as it can benefit yourself.

Example: If you have gone to three parties in one week already, including school, office and a neighbor’s, it is okay to say “No” to a fourth party, or even a second one. If you are overtired, stressed out or moody, no one will enjoy your company anyway.

Tip: Thank the Host deeply for inviting you and tell them you are “coming down” with something. That is not a lie as “coming down with something” could be a nervous breakdown or possible flu if you attend too many parties. Also, do not feel guilty. That is a big one. Instead, congratulate yourself on your strength and self care.

3) Forgive Your Family and Friends Ahead of Time

This will be harder for some people than others, but truly a lifesaver. All families have their share of weirdness, toxic people and negative situations in their midst, no matter how seemingly perfect on the outside.

Example: There are a couple of people in my family, and even friends that I get upset and stressed out when I am around each year, and yet I somehow expect them to be different. That is the definition of insanity and can cause great pain.

Tip: Realistically visualize those family members who cause great suffering, imagine the feeling and then let it go. Imagine you are at a dinner this very moment, and then forgive them and yourself ahead of time for having normal feelings.

4) Allow Yourself to Eat Too Much & Celebrate without The Guilt

Nowadays, the holiday diet tips and articles are out even before Halloween. Whatever happened to the good ol’ days of stuffing yourself like a turkey and comparing the sizes of your stomachs with that of your cousins?

Example: I know my family is obsessed with food, especially during the holidays. I also know I’ll be faced with thousands more calories a day than normal. But I want to enjoy myself because it is only once a year, and because our food is culinary art, so I have decided not to complain about overeating or my waistline. Why not enjoy this special time without the guilt that you have to feel the rest of the year?

Tip:  When your sister brings out her third pie, enjoy the taste of the buttered crust! When your mom dribbles fattening gravy all over your turkey leg and insists you must not like her cooking it because you have only had three helpings, say “You are right, give me more!”

You will have nine months to work off the calories before next year’s season begins.

5) Know that You Are Loved Even if You Don’t Feel It

Again, here comes the issue of having unrealistic expectations. Just because it is the Holiday season does not mean that people, family included, will suddenly show you more love, attention and thoughtfulness. And don’t forget that other people are also feeling the same “neediness” for love that you are, so try and be a little more conscious of that.

Example: Your friends may actually have less time than usual for you because they are busy with their own families and stressful schedules. For instance, maybe your siblings and friends have not returned your phone calls because they are wiped out and overwhelmed. Don’t read too much into it!

Tip: If you begin to feel sorry for yourself or like you aren’t getting enough attention, reach out to others. Be the one to phone, email, and invite some friends over. Other people may be feeling the same way and need your love.

6) Volunteer, For a Minute or Months

It may sound corny, but when you give more than you receive, especially to those who really need it, your level of happiness goes up. Not only do you have less time to think about all of your own problems because you will be too busy helping others, but your self esteem and sense of worth will also rise exponentially.

Example: Through my volunteer writing for a Domestic Violence Agency, I have gained a new perspective on what “real suffering” is, and each time that I devote my time freely, I actually gain much more than any paycheck could compare. I also know that my work inspires other others to do the same.

Tip: Start anywhere and volunteer as little or as much as you can. Google “volunteer” services in your area and you will be surprised at how many people, organizations and causes need someone exactly like you to do anything from simply visiting an old person, walking a dog, reading to a child or even some social media work.

7) Find Your Inner Child and Act Like One!

This means exactly what it says. Do you notice that a lot of adults seem stressed out and miserable during the Holidays while children seem over-the-top happy? And doesn’t that seem downright unfair? I have finally decided that I am going to be or at least “act as happy” as my own children. So far this year, it is working.

Example: My youngest daughter started talking about buying the ingredients to make a Gingerbread House. Rather than thinking about how much work that is, including spending the time to make it—I recalled my own childhood and how that was my favorite thing to do, as well as eat it afterwards. Now I am looking forward to it.

Tip: No matter how silly it seems, be childlike whenever possible during the Holidays. Get lost in the magic of lights, “ooooh and ahhhhh” when the Holiday desserts come to the table, sing away at whatever songs happen to play at your family festivities, even jump up and down when you see a present wrapped up just for you.

Who cares what anyone thinks? Have fun!


8)Laugh at The Craziness

Just when you think things can’t get worse or feel more crazy, they often get much worse—or rather they seem to. But no matter what happens, you have to learn to take things in stride and learn to laugh at yourself and the situations you find yourself in. The alternative? Okay, be miserable and complain constantly.

Example: I can recall family gatherings and parties with friends when people acted really weird and where nearly everyone, from babies to grandparents were on their strangest behavior and “acted out”, but I laugh about it now.

Tip: Rather than “waiting to laugh” at the crazy behavior from other people, Laugh at it Now! Make peace with the fact that many people will be more emotional, drink and eat more, and be a little “out of wack” during the holidays. Have a sense of humor about everything and you will get through it.

In closing, allow me to admit that all of the advice I am giving comes, fortunately and unfortunately from personal experiences. And even though I have suffered a great deal through some rough years here and there, I can say that I have also enjoyed all of the Holidays, now that I look back upon them.

And isn’t that what it is all about? Being able to look back upon this time of year and all others with some degree of joy simply because we knew we were fully alive and aware enough to experience the good and the bad, the rough and the smooth?

With age and with hopefully some wisdom, I have gained a sense of humor about what the Holidays mean to me and to all of the people that I love so dearly.

What I have learned most is that each and every day comes and goes very quickly, and that I have no more time or inclination to be stressed out, even about “being stressed out.”

I believe this realization came to me when my grandmother passed away almost four years ago. She was the light of my life and the person who made the Holidays come alive with her cooking, laughter and passion for living in the moment.

The very last Christmas that I spent with her, I remember her 96 year-old flirty self showing off her new silk read blouse with a matching wool pencil skirt, high heels and ruby earrings. She also wore shiny lipstick and threw her head back like a movie star in between long sips of my father’s famous martinis.

She said, “Oh Honey, don’t you just love this time of year? I just love an excuse to dress up and have a party!”

Me too grandma.

Me too.



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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photos: courtesy of the author

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