If the kitchen isn't smelling like cinnamon, the holiday cards haven't been sent, and you really can't afford to give the family that flat-screen TV (missed out on the midnight black Friday sales, huh?), you might start feeling the holiday blues. Such negative emotions around the holidays are normal. So cut yourself some slack, says Michelle Paul, a psychology professor and director of The Practice, a mental health clinic at UNLV.
Few people enjoy the perfect holidays portrayed in commercials. "We're naturally included to compare ourselves to what society holds out as ideal. We judge ourselves against one another because we are social animals," Paul says.
All holidays -- of every culture or religion -- could elicit feelings of unease, anxiety, sadness, and stress, she says. In some cases, the season triggers the emotions of holidays gone wrong. Some don't have loved ones to spend the day with or for some people flashbacks of family fighting can sink in. Even the outwardly consummate host can get over-stressed due to a burnt turkey or casserole.
Step back and don't feel bad about feeling bad, Paul says. We all have a tendency to feel ashamed for feeling low. Society tells us to cheer up, put on happy face, and get over it. Having negative feelings is OK, says Paul. Admitting the emotion is called acceptance, which makes dealing with emotions much easier.
Next, take another step, and ask yourself what you really want the holidays to be about and focus your energies on those values, Paul advises. After identifying what you truly believe in, it's time to take action. If family is your answer, then plan a family game night, for instance. If you're missing a loved one, try a new activity and do something for others. Volunteer at a soup kitchen to change up things, Paul suggests.
But if you find yourself in meltdown mode, during the holiday season or any time, seek help. Sometimes it helps just talking it out, says Paul. A therapist can also help identify if your fear, anxiety, or aggression will pass as the holidays do or if there's an ongoing issue to address.
"You don't have to wait to feel better," Paul says.
About The Practice
The Practice is a training and research clinic open to the public for a low-cost fee based on a sliding scale. Faculty and students offer therapy for mental health issues including anxiety, depression, grief, and loss. Therapists also specialize in problem gambling treatment and child behavioral issues. Visit The Practice web site for more information or call 702-895-1530.