Maintaining Mental Health During the Holidays

holidaysFor many people, this is a joyous time of year. If you’re a Christian, you’re celebrating the birth of Jesus. If you’re Jewish, you celebrate Hanukkah, the miracle of lights for eight days with only enough fuel for one. If you celebrate Kwanzaa, you are celebrating “the first fruits of the harvest” for a week at the end of the month. (Heck, if you’re a Seinfeld fan, you might even be celebrating the airing of grievances during Festivus!) And if you aren’t religious at all, there’s still enough food and gifts circulating around—as well as merriment and good will—that the mood becomes infectious.

For some people, however, this is a sad and painful time of year. According to PsychologyToday.com, many factors contribute to the melancholy of the season. Possible causes include:

  • Excessive commercialization of the season, resulting in the true meaning being lost.
  • Obsession over the “perfect” gift or menu, resulting in stress and unrealistic expectations.
  • Self-reflection over accomplishments, resulting in despair over shortcomings and anger with others who have more.
  • Pressure to meet or exceed others’ or last year’s gifts, resulting in anxiety over finances.
  • Dread over familial and social obligations, resulting in stress and depression.
  • Despair over lost loved ones (and/or lost employment), sometimes even culminating in suicide or attempted suicide.

One Christmas, we had three family funerals within a span of one week. (Believe me, you couldn’t make a story like this up.) They were all on my husband’s side of the family, but actually three different branches of his family, so most people only had to attend one funeral that week. We, however, had all three: a Troilo death, a Turra death, and a Biagioni death. Grieving the first was horrible. Grieving the second was difficult. By the time we got to the third? After the shock and incredulity wore off, we were simply numb. Humans simply aren’t conditioned to process losses like that.

I thought that would be the worst holiday I ever experienced. Of course, I also thought that the year my grandfather died. That was the first time I experienced a loss of someone close to me, and it was terrible.

Several years after these sad holidays, I’m faced with another familial death. My husband’s grandmother just passed away. The funeral is this weekend. Added to that, my uncle has taken a turn for the worst and is likely never to return home. This holiday feels like the most difficult one I’ve ever faced. But I know it’s just because this pain is fresh, and the other difficult holidays are being remembered through the numbing effects of time.

Time may not heal all wounds, but it certainly takes the edge off.

(click to tweet that)

So I ask you for this one favor. This year, when you meet a person who is less than jubilant, consider the stresses they might be under. Don’t call them a Scrooge or a Grinch. Instead, offer them some compassion. It might be just the holiday gift they need.

For Writers:
The triggers mentioned here are real and powerful factors that impact people, not even just during the holidays, but all year long. Fiction relies on conflict. Incorporating any of these issues as character motivation will enrich your work. I’m about to release a mainstream fiction novel full of dysfunctional family dynamics and poor choices. The motivations behind the characters’ actions, however, are understandable and in some cases even noble. These are the things that take one-dimensional characters and make them vibrant.

For Everyone:
Yes, this is an emotional time of year. If you are happy right now, my wish for you is that you continue to be so. If you are stressed, my wish is that you find relaxation. The holiday is coming whether your cookies are baked, your gifts are bought, or your cards are sent. Try to enjoy the frivolity and let the other issues go. But if you are seriously depressed? I wish you the peace of the season, the ability to focus on the good messages and intentions and the release of your anxiety, and the redirection of your negative emotions to something healthier. My prayers are with all of you, this season and always.

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5 Comments

  1. First, my sympathies with you and yours. It’s so very true, and not just at the holidays. My family and I have suffered through terrible losses and it takes very little from a stranger to make things more difficult or much brighter. I vow to do my best to make things brighter for others. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. A very thought provoking post, Staci. I’ve always been an up person, but several members of my family have clinical depression, so I do understand how the holidays can effect some people. You are so right, compassion is important.

    • Staci Troilo

      December 12, 2014 at 5:41 pm

      I’m sorry to hear that about your family, Velda. You are always so upbeat and positive, I wouldn’t have thought it. Just goes to show… you really never know what’s going on in someone else’s life. All the more reason to treat everyone with kindness. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Staci, you are so right. We don’t always know the meaning behind everyone’s sadness or grumpiness. I lost my mom (many years ago) on December 5. Nine days earlier one of her sisters passed away. My brother and his family had moved to western Texas. They came for Mom’s funeral, but couldn’t return for Christmas. That was a tough year. Thinking of you during this time and praying.

    • Staci Troilo

      December 12, 2014 at 6:16 am

      I’m sorry for your loss, Joan… even all these years later. The wound may be healed, but (I know all too well) the scars remain.

      Losses anytime are painful, but this time of year the pain seems magnified. Wishing you a joyous, and pain-free, holiday.

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