The Goods

How to handle the holidays when you're not feeling so merry

A psychiatrist's coping tips for when the most wonderful time of the year also feels like the most stressful.

A psychiatrist's coping tips for when the most wonderful time of the year also feels like the most stressful.

(Photography by Paola Chaaya, Via: Unsplash)

The "most wonderful time of the year" can also be the most stressful for some. The holidays are a time for getting together with family and friends. But along with the celebrations, can come expectations that leave us stressed, anxious or feeling particularly pressured during an already busy time of year. For many, it can be hard to navigate a time when we feel pressured to be our happiest. Thankfully, psychiatrist and author Dr. Marcia Sirota stopped by The Goods to share her tops that will help us cope with conflict and tension this holiday season.

Dr. Sirota says that the holidays bring a lot of energy to a time of year that can act like a magnifier, amplifying our joy and stress. It's a season when we deal with a lot of perfectionism, making comparisons with others, as well as a lot of feelings of guilt and obligation. It can be prime time for mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety, or even addictions to be heightened, making it particularly difficult to cope. Dr. Sirota answered some viewers' questions on how to deal with difficult situations over the coming weeks.

We have a member in our family who makes the holidays a bit difficult. The more this person drinks, the more outrageous, combative and inappropriate they become. We try and laugh it off but their behaviour makes it hard to have a positive relationship with them the rest of the year. Is it my job to finally say something?

Dr. Sirota: It's time to say something, because if nothing is said they don't know there is an issue. Ideally, you want to say something before the party starts so that you don't put the person on the spot. It's best to approach the person with a couple family members. They might not take one person seriously, but too many and they might feel overwhelmed. There is a way of doing this gently – start by building bridges with love and concern. Try statements like, "I'm worried about your health," "I'm concerned about your behaviour," or "There's something we really need to address." That usually goes over better than statements such as "you always," "you never," "you should," "you shouldn't." You want it to be a constructive, in-person confrontation; there is no context to show love in texts, and this sort of issue has to be addressed with special care.

I'm recently divorced and want to skip family dinner this year. It's hard to face everyone. My brother is constantly passing judgment on everything from my career to how I parent my kids. Truth is, I'm quite jealous of what he has with his wife and family. It feels easier to just stay away from the whole holiday scene. Thoughts?

Dr. Sirota: It's painful to go through a divorce, and it's great to lean on family for help, but not so much when there's a lot of jealousy and competitiveness among siblings. It really depends on what works for you. If you feel that it's a really difficult time and you need to get away, grab a friend and fly south. Don't feel guilty about that. Focus on taking care of yourself, and maybe that means you can start a new holiday tradition.

I'm forty-five and single and usually I love it. But the holidays make me question my life choices. At family dinners, my nosy relatives ask me questions about my dating life, and at work parties I'm the only one at the table without a plus one. I'm usually happy, but this time of year I start to feel lonely and depressed. Any tips to get me out of this funk?

Dr. Sirota: It's very common for us to feel more lonely at this time of year because it's a time of love and connection. If we don't have a partner it can be a particularly difficult time, especially if we're comparing ourselves to others. But there are a lot of things we can do – starting with self love. If you have a good relationship with yourself, you're already a winner. Also, gratitude is so important this time of year. Be appreciative of what you have, and pay it forward because when you give love, you feel love. Volunteer at the shelter, at the food bank, at a community centre and not just over the holidays – if you're already giving love all year round, you'll continue to feel good once the holidays actually arrive. You can also talk to your family ahead of time. Ask that they don't be nosy about your personal life, or that they stop trying to play matchmaker at the dinner. Asking beforehand will help avoid an awkward confrontation – if your family is the type to listen!

I host our big family dinner at my place every year. We have a blended family and I love making things picture-perfect with gifts and food. But it's also stressful and I turn into "Holidayzilla" for weeks beforehand. My husband is begging me to hand over the reigns to someone else. I'd like to take a back seat this year but feel conflicted. Should I delegate?

It sounds like you are putting too much pressure on yourself because nobody has to take 100% of the responsibility for the family festivities. Sometimes the person who usually organizes things can be a perfectionist, which makes it hard to offer help. Consider alternatives like a Christmas potluck, going out to eat, or changing the host every year because it's important to recognize that traditions change and evolve. It sounds like you are looking for perfection, which isn't possible or necessary; during the holidays, love is the main course and food, decoration and presents are just the trimmings. Make the event a group effort, and relinquish some control. Everyone will be more personally invested in the festivities, and happier as a result.

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