With the pandemic ongoing and safety precautions remain a top priority, celebrations are small, with many still anxious and fearful that can cause the rise of holiday blues.
Growing up in a big family and an even bigger clan from both sides of my parents. Christmas is—or should I say was—always a huge event, filled with long conversations over good food, games and laughs. It’s that one time of the year when everyone can be together and live in the present. Setting up the Christmas tree, Simbang Gabi and Noche Buena are all the traditions I cherish deeply and look forward to in order to end the year on a good note. This year silence has taken hold of the night.
When I woke up one day and headed downstairs to our kitchen, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of sadness wash over me as I looked around and saw that my mom has fully put up the Christmas tree and the living room decorated with red stockings and nutcracker statues. Normally I would feel giddy over the mere fact that our white plates have been replaced with those decorated with wreaths and colors, but now it just reminds me that I have to tell my loved ones that we have to spend the holidays apart this year.
The best gesture of love and care we can give to another right now is to keep our distance.
Realizing that this gave me my first experience of holiday blues, wherein our Christmas lights now seem so small against a still and somber world. Holiday blues are expressed differently by individuals, but their symptoms are quite similar to depression. Becoming more irritable, feeling lonely even amongst people, and withdrawing from family and friends are signs that we must watch out for during this season. On social media you’ll see many wishing the year 2021 to come sooner, but it’s slowly dawning upon us that a new year doesn’t mean everything’s going to go back to normal. As much as we can hope that the upcoming year can be positively different from what we’re going through right now, there’s still no assurance.
I talked to licensed positive psychologist Celine Sugay to navigate the way around this seasonal melancholy. She explains that the possible causes of distraught feeling during this time can range from financial stressors to stress from dealing with celebrations, which Dr. Sugay shares are all likely to be more evident this year. “The current situation prevents the majority of us from celebrating the usual way we celebrate. It is likely that most of us will have a sense of nostalgia and miss our yearly gatherings, Christmas parties, family get-togethers and reunions, and even our Simbang Gabi traditions,” she says.
Feeling these emotions are valid and let no one tell you otherwise.
Dr. Sugay imparts that we tend to drown in these emotions by convincing ourselves that we are “fine.” The first step in healing is to acknowledge the negative emotions and name them. “A lot of people don’t know the differences between emotions. Feeling frustrated, disappointed, sad, annoyed, angry, lonely, are all very different emotions. When you can identify what the emotion is, you can also figure out what to do about it,” Dr. Sugay states. We know that we don’t have to go through these emotions alone, but that’s easier said than done.
Take the firs step by making your home a safe space, a place where one can start the conversation.
You can ease into it by asking questions like, ‘What is one challenge you encountered this week?’, ‘How did you feel about it?’, ‘How is the situation now?’, ‘What helped you get through that challenge?’ Questions like these help people process what happened to them and will also send the message that you’re willing to listen,” Dr. Sugay advises. It might also be easier when we can’t see the reactions of the other person, so she recommends trying out other mediums to communicate such as chatting online or even the classic handwritten letter. She reminds us to take our time and not be pressured to talk about it in person right away.
A change of mindset and expectations is also vital during this holiday season, not only to have ourselves an enjoyable Christmas but also for the betterment of our mental health.
“As much as optimism can boost our mental health and wellbeing, our optimism also needs to be grounded on reality. Expecting to celebrate with our balikbayan relatives is not realistic given our situation, and it only sets us up for unnecessary disappointment,” Dr. Sugay says. Instead, this year, she recommends that we can instill the magic of the special day by taking advantage of the unconventional to make new traditions. “Instead of expecting to have the same Christmas traditions, which will likely contribute to more holiday blues, we can use this time to make the most of what we have. We can choose to focus on what we can celebrate, what’s present in our lives, and the real essence of the holiday season—love.”