The holidays are upon us. Thanksgiving and Christmas are the most festive holidays. How well I recall growing up in Indiana with the sounds and smells of my mother cooking big dinners of ham and turkey and all the trimmings, me ordered, with my siblings, to clean the house so thoroughly you would have thought President Johnson was coming (that’s a 60s thing), snow on the ground, and Nat King Cole’s Christmas Carol playing on a 78 rpm album. On both holidays, the house filled with family and friends, and food was leftovers for days.
Fast forward from the holidays of our youth to the holidays of today. So much has happened to each of us—career changes, losses, maybe a few regrets; loved ones, friends, and possibly even colleagues have died. It is because Thanksgiving and Christmas have always personified family, emotional closeness, cohesiveness, and a term Alfred Adler coined, social interest (more about that later), that yes, those of us who are passionate about our work, who want to make a difference in the lives of others, young or old, who want to leave this world better than we found it, and who still believe in peace and love have moments— often tearful moments—of loneliness and sadness. The sadness can descend upon us anywhere, anytime, whether in a crowd or alone, in downtown Chicago or Minneapolis, on a December Saturday night when the snow is falling, engaged in what Shakespeare termed, communing with our thoughts.
As professionals, youth advocates, researchers, therapists, and trainers, the holidays can be a challenge, or as the youth I work with say, “a bummer” for us and for those for whom we provide services. In my interactions with colleagues and clients, I have observed that, for some, the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas can be the most anxiety-provoking, depressing times of the year. Going forward in therapy, we often have to say with adolescents or emerging adults, “Let’s stay in the here and now”, which consists of, “How do I get through these moments of loneliness, depression, sadness, and anxiety, which are normal for this time of year?”
It is equally important to remember a therapy principle utilized when working with adolescents, that of modeling what we are asking them to do. If we strip away the titles and positions, we too are everyday people with feelings and emotions who have to deal with our own holiday emotional challenges. The following is not written in stone nor is it from a psychological or behavioral journal but may be just common sense:
• Avoid being socially isolated. Take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Make sure you connect with a colleague or friend, or attend a social event where the focus is not on you but on others, based on the principle that true happiness is related to social connectedness.
• Volunteer, be concerned about others or, as delineated in Adlerian theory, engage in social interest or Gemeinschaftsgefuhl, or a community feeling of oneness.
• If there is something you enjoy that promotes prosocial, emotional well-being, engage in that activity.
• Eat well. Try to stick to healthful foods. Yes, the holidays are a time when we tend to overindulge…
• Journal. Writing down one’s thoughts and feelings can be cathartic and an effective way to manage affect regulation.
• Attend an AA or NA meeting. While individual therapy is valuable, it may not be available during the holidays. Fellowship groups such as AA and NA generate a feeling of camaraderie and a sense of belonging.
• Be grateful. In Yalom’s Curative Factors for group, he lists “existential”, which I interpret as “What does it mean to be alive?” During the holiday season, one can remember to be
grateful to be alive, for people to still call your name, to be a contributor, and to give back.
• Lastly, make the holidays work for you. They do not have to be “a bummer”. Moments of depression and sadness are all a part of living with which we must manage, regardless of the time of year. Maybe the folks in AA and NA are right, “We must be willing to deal with life on life’s terms.”
References provided upon request.
Fred Dyer, PhD., CADC, is an internationally recognized speaker, trainer, author and consultant who services juvenile justice/ detention/residential programs, child welfare/foster care agencies, child and adolescent residential facilities, mental health facilities and adolescent substance abuse prevention programs in the areas of implementation and utilization of evidence-based, gender-responsive, culturally competent, and developmentally and age appropriate practices. He can be reached at www.dyerconsulting.org