For most of my life, I’ve abhorred the holiday season. Maybe it’s the fact that it gets dark so early or that the weather is perpetually gloomy, at least where I grew up in the Midwest. Perhaps it’s the incessant commercialism, the cheesy Hallmark movies, or hearing songs about being merry every time you turn on the radio. It could be the stress of holiday shopping, travel, and planning.
Whatever it boils down to, I feel dread whenever November and December roll around. The last few weeks of the year feel like something to get through rather than something to eagerly anticipate.
Do more people hate the holidays than we expect?
I felt alone in this regard, like I was the only one who didn’t exude joy this time of year. But in recent discussions, my therapist mentioned most of her clients don’t actually look forward to the holidays.
Other therapists further validate my hatred of the season. “Holidays can bring up unresolved issues with family members, create anxiety around expectations of self and/or others, and create stress financially,” said Kelley Kitley, a licensed clinical social worker.
Myriame Lyons, a counseling therapist in Vancouver, noted that our prior experiences of the holidays impact how we currently feel about them. Having lots of feelings about your past experiences and feeling overwhelmed can be seen as an emotional threat, she added. “And so, if your body is interpreting the holidays as emotionally threatening (overwhelming), hate — the ‘fight’ response in the sympathetic state — can show up as a protective mechanism,” Lyons said. “Your hate of the holidays is keeping you safe (e.g., away from harmful people, avoiding disappointment.”
Moreover, a 2006 survey from the American Psychological Association found that 38 percent of people feel increased stress around the holidays. Only 8 percent felt decreased stress levels.
How to cope with the holiday season
If this strikes a chord with you, what should you do? There are numerous ways to cope with your dislike of the season.
- Pinpoint your response. Lyons recommended identifying the emotions that are underneath the hatred. She suggested asking yourself the following: “Am I feeling: sad, afraid, angry, disgusted, happy, excited?” While this can be difficult, “learning to feel and release emotions in a safe and healthy way is life-changing,” Lyons said.
- Be OK with your feelings. “Sometimes people make the holidays worse because they beat themselves up for feeling like a grinch,” said Kitley. “I suggest to my clients to acknowledge and accept where they are at emotionally.”
- Make your own traditions. Karen Balumbu-Bennett, a licensed psychotherapist, encouraged thinking outside the box. Go somewhere new, or stay in and watch “non-holiday” movies and eat “non-holiday” food, she noted.
- Keep self-care at the top of your list. “Make sure that you are prioritizing your mental wellness,” said Balumbu-Bennett. Instead of inducing stress, take care of yourself by sleeping in, journaling, practicing gratitude, and going for walks.
- Create boundaries. You can set your own limits around what you can tolerate when it comes to spending time with family, noted Kitley. It’s also OK to say no. “You don’t have to attend every or any holiday events,” said Balumbu-Bennett.
- Try therapy. “If you find that you hate the holidays because possibly you are carrying some unresolved grief or emotional pain, therapy can help you begin to process those underlying feelings,” Balumbu-Bennett stated. There are plenty of resources for accessing affordable therapy.
As we once again enter the holiday season, remember that you’re allowed to feel however you want. If you love this time of year, enjoy it. If you hate the holidays, embrace your emotions. Find ways to make this time of year your own, whether that means setting boundaries, trying out a new tradition, or something else entirely.