A recent email I got sums up many people’s attitude towards this time of year:
Dear Doctor Kimmel:
I hate the Holidays! People are so fake and everyone competes with each other for the best gifts, best parties, best tree decorations, etc. What can I do to get through this falsely festive time of year?
Depressed Already in San Diego
You are not alone: “the Holidays” (e.g., Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s Eve, etc.) can easily become a series of competitive events. So, dear reader: shift your mindset. Like Maya Angelou once said, “If you can’t change the situation, then change your way of looking at it”.
You can’t change the holidays single-handedly: most of us suffer some negative effects from what I call RRT (Retailing/Religion/Tradition). Instead of falling victim to the effects of RRT, why not decide how you want to spend the next few weeks. Ask yourself:
- Do I want to lay low and have a quiet month?
- Do I want to hang out with my friends more than usual?
- Do I have relatives I actually like to be with?
- Do I want to give gifts or is a real drag for me?
- Do I want to go out of town and avoid all the hoopla?
- Is there a spiritual/religious aspect of the Holidays that I like?
Identify what you want and organize the coming weeks to get as much of it as possible.
Mr./Ms. Depressed Already wants people to be more genuine and less fake. As a psychotherapist, here’s what I’ve observed on why people put on a fake holiday face: people act fake when they feel insecure or lonely. So don’t try to live out some idealized Hallmark special version of the holidays. Instead, make them real for yourself.
I suggest that you pay more attention to yourself this month and notice what you’re feeling: are you waxing nostalgic for a happy childhood that wasn’t? Are you envious of someone else? Do you feel disconnected from the happy-happy people in all those sappy holiday movies/videos? If so, notice your unhappiness, be kind(er) to yourself and you’ll likely see your own false festiveness replaced by something more real, grounded and peaceful.
Many people feel tense, angry and/or depressed at this time of year. All that pressure to have a Martha Stewart kind of holiday pushes a lot of our buttons. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself because your house/apartment looks nothing like Martha’s, try thinking about other people for a change. Get your butt out of that easy chair and volunteer for a good cause: deliver food to someone, call a children’s hospital or a nursing home and ask what you can do. No matter how lousy your less-than-glamourous life may feel, after helping someone else in need, you feel better about yourself, your life and your own (now quite small) problems.
If you actually enjoy giving gifts, let them come to you as easily as possible. Avoid crowded shopping malls. Instead, patronize local, LGBT-owned businesses. Let’s give back to our own…and, as a bonus, you get to avoid spending 20 minutes inching into and out of a mega-mall parking lot!
The most important recipient of your love this season is you. It’s healthy – not narcissistic – to be kind to yourself. Give yourself something nice for the holidays: at least you’ll get one gift you really like. Consider a facial or a relaxing morning at a local spa. Book a massage by a local masseur or masseuse. We all need to be touched – literally – in a caring and attentive way, especially during holiday times.
Maybe this year it’s time to break with tradition and buy yourself a plane ticket somewhere fun and get the hell outta town. A vacation away from expectations (and family) may be the best gift of all.
Whatever you do in the coming weeks, give yourself the gifts of compassion, kindness and understanding. Santa would be proud…