Some of us, this year more than ever, might be dreading the upcoming festivities. Not being able to travel home to be with loved ones is going to be tough for so many people. While some might be putting a brave face on, determined to decorate the tree no matter what, others might be just stuck with the seasonal blues. This post has some tips to support you through the festive season.

The festive season and end-of-year celebrations are supposed to be the most joyous time of the year: fancy dress, gourmet foods, decorations, lights, music, gifts and an opportunity to spend time with family or friends. But this is not the reality for everyone… many people feel particularly sad or down at this time of year.

Just not feeling it

If someone is being ‘bah humbug’ at this time of year, don’t just assume they are being a grump. There are numerous reasons that people might not be in the festive mood. These may include:

Grief and loss
Loved ones (or pets) who have passed away, or relationships that have ended, are often remembered at this time of year and the burden can feel heavier than usual. It can feel even more painful to accept a reality without a person you deeply love(d).

Distance from loved ones
If you’re an expat, you may not have the chance to spend the holidays with your loved ones. This year, in particular, so many more people will not be able to travel to be with loved ones, it is not only those with family abroad. Even here in the Netherlands, we are advised not to travel and stay home as much as possible.

Excessive self-reflection

December is usually the time to look back on the year and what you have been through. Ongoing relationship problems with a partner, parents, siblings or children may seem more intense (and hopeless) during the holidays. Perhaps you find yourself wondering: am I good enough?; why do we have to argue even on these days?; why are others happier than me? Comparing your (apparent) inadequacies in life to those who seem to have more and do more can become a vicious circle.

Dissatisfaction with your personal life
Holidays mean you have more time to think and this can force you to face personal issues you’ve been avoiding (whether by working or going out too much, or keeping yourself distracted). Or perhaps you are single but ready for a relationship, struggling to get over your ex, in an unsatisfactory relationship, or the kids are celebrating with your ex-partner and you find yourself wondering why things haven’t worked out for you. It is easy to begin an internal dialogue: is there something wrong with me?; why don’t I have a partner?; why doesn’t my relationship work?; why do I feel lonely even though I am surrounded by people?

Unrealistic expectations
We all have visions of how the festive season ‘should’ be and excessive commercialisation can exacerbate this. We watch Hollywood movies that present the perfect picture: the heavily laden Christmas table, the successful romantic relationships, the ideal family life. These kinds of expectations can intensify feelings of inadequacy or lack of control over relationship issues. They can also lead to feeling disappointed or unfulfilled when events turn out to be less than we expected.

Tips to banish the blues

So, what can you do about it? Here are some tips to support you through the festive season:

Temper your expectations and don’t get caught up in the madness of the ‘perfect’ holiday with your perfect self around perfect people. Remember that authenticity is far more important than perfectionism.

Invite other expats in a similar situation to celebrate with you (in accordance with the current restrictions). Often, they will understand how you are feeling.

Be gentle on yourself. Before accepting or committing to an event or task, ask yourself: ‘Am I am being kind to myself? Am I pushing myself too hard to please others or to prove something?’

Focus on two or three elements about this time of year that matter most to you… even the smallest things can make a difference.

Remember the good times. When you find yourself missing someone, try to think of the good memories you shared with this person. Don’t try and push the sad feelings from your mind – this will only lead to emotions bottling up.

Be grateful. Take a moment to be grateful for what you have, rather than focusing on what you don’t have or what you can’t do.

Take action and do things that you enjoy or that calm you (e.g. watch a movie, listen to music, take a long hot bath).

Make new traditions. If you have recently divorced or gone through a break-up, remember that you don’t have to follow the same traditions his year. Do something else!

Write your story: this will help you express your thoughts and feelings, process them and gain more insight.

If you feel overwhelmed by your feelings, don’t feel shy to talk to people or seek professional help. If you can let go of the problem and put it in the past, you will be able to start afresh.

Don’t get caught up in the madness of the ‘perfect’ holiday

How do you feel as this festive season approaches? Do you have tips to banish the blues? Share your comments below.

First published on Expat Nest.

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