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  • Holiday Mental Health & 2020 Holiday Disappointment

    Holiday mental health can be a genuine concern, and this year, many people are dealing with an especially high level of holiday disappointment.

    PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

    Psychotherapists are acutely aware that the Holiday period produces high levels of stress, and of anxiety and depression, for very many people. It’s one of those paradoxes in our collective life. We’re supposed to be in high spirits, and in a celebratory mood for the “most wonderful time of the year”. Yet this season can be full of disappointment, and of difficult memories for many people. These are only compounded by the collective expectation that we are all to be full of mirth, and to quote Paul McCartney, “simply having a wonderful Christmas time”.

    That’s the general psychological background of the Holiday season. Yet, this year we have a whole series of other factors to consider, due to the presence of the pandemic in our midst. We are confronting Holidays where the size of gatherings will be severely limited. Also, many activities that we might associate with the Holiday period—restaurants, theatre and other shows, movies—are all very seriously curtailed. It will be a challenge for many of us to avoid a feeling of holiday disappointment this year.

    The Pressure to be Happy

    There is a great collective pressure to be happy around the holidays, which can be very tough on people. There is an understandably strong yearning to make the Holidays as rich and memorable as possible, but it can be experienced as a very cruel kind of demand by those who are dealing with difficult things in their lives. This is true for many people who’ve experienced trauma or the loss of a loved one, or for those, like many children of alcoholics, who may have difficult memories associated with the Holiday period. It can also be a very difficult time for many who are undergoing major challenges, such as illness or the breakup of a marriage or family unit during the Holiday season.

    And against this background, we’re confronting all the uncertainties and restrictions of the pandemic. This year’s Holiday season will be wildly different from any that we’ve experienced in our lifetimes, due to the range of restrictions that many of us will encounter. For many who feel a strong pressure to be happy in the Holiday season, the demands of the 2020 season may well compound the difficulties that they face.

    Acknowledging the Feelings

    It may be, for many, that the net effect of this combination of the pressure to be happy in the Holidays, and the unique difficulties of the 2020 Holiday season will be even stronger pressures to put on a happy face for the outer world throughout this Holiday season. This may mean repressing the feelings of holiday disappointment that they experience.

    The difficulty with repressing or not acknowledging our feelings of Holiday disappointment is that, unacknowledged, they can have a deep impact on our Holiday mental health. By not consciously recognizing and accepting our disappointment and hurt about this years Holidays, we may find that our Holiday season is blighted by a pervasive sense of hollowness and flatness, no matter how much we try to seem “merry” to those close to us, and to the wider world.

    What Has Meaning During the Holidays?

    It may be essential to confront our Holiday disappointment, and to acknowledge what we really feel. But, as UBC psychology Professor Elizabeth Dunn expressed it in a recent Globe & Mail interview, you may need to “let yourself be disappointed, but then say, what can I do that I really care about“? [bold and italics mine]

    The question of what we really care about—what really has meaning—is key to finding value in our 2020 Holidays. We will need to confront our grief that this Holiday period doesn’t bring many of the good things that we have either experienced in Holidays past, or had hoped to experience this year. We will also need to look at our power, at the capacity that we still have, right here and now, to bring about good things in our lives and the lives of others. This will involve engaging, and perhaps discovering capacities for connection, expression and creativity that we possess, and using them to bring about results that we find meaningful.

    For Jungian /a-midlife-transitions, questions of what we care about as individuals, what really has meaning for us, are central not only to our “holiday mental health” but much more fundamentally to the whole process of discovering who we individually and uniquely are. Jungians refer to this as our journey towards wholeness. It may well be that engaging with a sensitive and attuned Jungian /a-midlife-transition is part, not only of a meaningful Holiday experience, but of an ongoing process of finding meaning in our individual lives.

    With every good Holiday wish, and with warmest wishes for your individual journey towards wholeness,

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