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Why Is December So Hard Emotionally?

In December, we reflect on the year that has gone by. As we approach the start of the new year, we are bombarded by messages about new year's resolutions asking us to evaluate our lives, identify shortcomings, and promise changes. Our reflections also include how our lives might look different now than in the past, and we think about the people, families, and loved ones that are not present.

Work can also be challenging in December. Holiday parties, socializing with colleagues, and the looming vacation all contribute to a stressful end-of-the-year. This happens against a backdrop of darker days and colder weather, which create a heavy feeling.

1. You feel lonely or isolated.

As a society, we are bombarded with messages about how families, friends, and holiday social life should be. Unlike what we see on TV of smiling families gathered around a big dinner table, our own experiences are probably a bit different. Throughout the month of December, we are encouraged to compare our lives to fictional ones in ads, embellished stories from friends or social media, or nostalgic tales from the past.

If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events or communities,” suggests the Mayo Clinic. “Many may have websites, online support groups, social media sites or virtual events.” These groups can provide comfort and support as well

Talking to a friend or family member about your concerns may also help if you're feeling stressed during the holidays. You can reach out by text, call, or video chat.

“Volunteering your time or doing something to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships,” adds the Mayo Clinic Staff. “For example, consider dropping off a meal and dessert at a friend's home during the holidays.”

2. You’re dealing with grief.

It's hard to celebrate holidays when your loved one isn't there. As such, it is not unusual for rituals, sights, or aromas to trigger memories, some of which can be painful. In any case, remember that they are in charge of the holidays. Therefore, if you don't feel like celebrating this year, don't force it.

Instead, give yourself permission to take a break from the holidays. You may want to seek solitude in nature, spend time alone at home, or interact with others going through similar circumstances.

In the event that you wish to celebrate, spending time with friends and family can be comforting. This is especially true if one acknowledges their absence and remembers the memory of a lost loved one. Try to incorporate the deceased's memory into new memories and traditions. You might keep a candle lit for them, make their favorite food, write a poem or a letter, or volunteer for a cause they supported in the community.

The most important thing is to be compassionate with yourself and accept that things may not go according to plan. So, do not be afraid to decline or cancel invitations last minute.

3. You’re estranged from your family.

During the holidays, cultural and commercial fantasies of family can make estrangement especially painful. For many people, these images do not reflect their reality, and the distortion makes them feel even more marginalized and alone.

The values that define your family are those that resonate with you and only you. It is helpful to surround yourself with people who value your uniqueness and mirror your values when you feel rejected by your own blood kin.

4. You’re going through a divorce.

For some, images of couples in love during the holidays can be really triggering because divorce is traumatic and can cause grief symptoms. If you are dealing with the pain and anger caused by infidelity or irreconcilable differences, the key to getting through the end of the year is to take care of yourself.

Make a self-care routine, like going for a walk every day, getting a facial every week, or taking a long bath, for example, and follow it. When you practice self-love, even the tiniest gestures can really help shift your focus from what other people are doing or feeling to what you are doing.

5. You’re experiencing anger.

It is common for many of us to interact with relatives whom we do not often see during December. In the past or in the present, some of them may have hurt us. We feel pressured to exude "holiday cheer" and often struggle to set boundaries or voice our feelings due to anger and unresolved tension.

As therapist Mike Hodson writes in 3 Tips To Help Survive the Holidays with Family, “Being back with your family of origin over the holidays has a way of almost erasing [your adult] identity and making you feel eight years old all over again!”

6. You or a loved one is ill.

It's OK to focus on yourself on holidays and every day when you're sick. In the case of serious illness, it's important to make every day count. Rather than focusing on the holidays, think about what will make you feel the best. Instead of doing what feels like a chore—like seeing colleagues or distant family, or preparing or eating the customary meal—you can indulge in what feels meaningful.

If you choose to celebrate the conventional way and come across well-meaning family and friends who seem to add to your stress, what do you do? Also, you are not obligated to talk about your illness if you don’t want to.

It can also be distressing to have a friend or family member who is seriously ill, especially when it forces you to confront your own mortality. It is however a good idea to direct your efforts toward your loved one in order to get over this discomfort. It doesn't matter what you say or do—your presence speaks volumes.

Make the most of this holiday season if it may be your loved one's "last" holiday with you, if he or she is up to it. After all, it's amazing how many people show up for a funeral. But. what's better than spending time with your loved one during Thanksgiving, Rosh Hashana, Diwali, Eid Al Fitr, or Christmas?

7. You feel shame about your body.

A few things happen in December that influence how we feel about our bodies. During this time of year, we are surrounded by candy, treats, and advertisements for exercise and diet programs. Because of this, it is common for many of us to feel guilty about our bodies during December.

One way to counter this is to be good to yourself. Taking care of yourself includes things like calling your sponsor, attending meetings, or talking to a therapist. Additionally, we need to maintain our spiritual practices and eat healthily, sleep well, and do other things to stay present. Also, take advantage of holiday experiences and activities that put a smile on your face.

“Enjoy the season, the music, the cheesy Netflix holiday movies, decorating, baking, entertaining, all of it!” writes Holly Jespersen for the nonprofit recovery website Shatterproof “It should be fun, not something to check off your list. And if you don’t feel joyful participating in it, don’t do it!”

8. You’re worried about money.

It's expensive to give gifts! Gift-giving is a type of expectation that many of us feel we have to fulfill for our friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers. Our limited budgets and time constrain us from making our own gifts, so we turn to shopping for material goods.

If we are unable to give gifts, we can feel deeply shamed. “When we are wrestling with shame, we are wrestling with our sense of acceptability,” says Ed Coambs, a certified financial planner and financial marriage and family therapist who is the author of The Healthy Love and Money Way. When we are unable to afford a present that shows how much we value our relationships with loved ones, our sense of shame only intensifies.

Others fear that their finances will take a turn for the worse, so they limit spending too drastically, preventing them from communicating with friends and family.

It may not be possible to change your financial situation before the holidays, but you can make a lot of changes to manage your holiday stress.

  • When you refuse to discuss money or open bills during the holidays, you will only aggravate your holiday financial stress.

  • Consider your past experiences with unmet gift expectations (and talk about them).

  • When you can't afford to do as much as you would like, limit what gifts you will give and what celebrations you will attend.

  • Instead of focusing on things, focus on experiences.

  • If you need to use local resources, do so. A huge stressor during the holidays is buying groceries. There are places to turn to for food assistance if your family needs it. For example, contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s hunger hotline (866-3-HUNGRY), or text 97779 to receive a response directing you to local food pantries.

9. You’re stressed about work.

Working during the holiday season can be stressful for anyone. Besides your job responsibilities, you have to deal with family visits, holiday shopping, and attending events on top of your work duties.

To help manage your stress in the workplace during the holidays, give these a try:

  • When you don't take good care of yourself, you may find it even harder to handle your responsibilities at home and at work.

  • When the workday is over, unplug and refresh yourself by utilizing effective time management techniques.

  • In times of stress or overwhelm, ask for help from your colleagues.

  • Behave yourself during holiday parties, meaning keep alcohol conumption to a minimum.

  • Protect your weekends and vacation time during December by setting boundaries with your coworkers. It's even possible that you skip the holiday party this year.

10. You’ve lost your job.

Insecurity of any kind is never easy. But at holiday times when money and gifts are viewed as symbols of love and value, it can be especially difficult.

You can realize how much you have, even if your bank account doesn't show it, by creating timeless handmade gifts (such as a letter detailing what you love about friends and family) or volunteering.

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