holiday help, coping with holiday stress

Help for Spending the Holiday Season Alone

December 23, 2009 07:00 AM
by Anne Szustek
Going solo for the holidays? Though you may be by yourself, you’re not alone.

Avoid the Hype This Holiday Season

For those who are spending the holidays alone, the season can seem bittersweet. An inundation of media-promoted portrayals of idyllic holidays can compound the stresses of “seasonal singletons.”

“There’s so much hype for this wonderful time of togetherness that it accentuates the feeling of being alone and disconnected,” Elaine Rodino, a clinical psychologist, told Psych Central.

But the “holiday blues” are not a phenomenon unique to those alone on the holidays. The anticipation spurred on by the annual marketing and media blitz can lead to depression when the holiday turns out to fall short of one’s lofty expectations. Plus the work that accompanies the struggle to create a holiday mirroring a Norman Rockwell painting can bring undue stress.

The holiday shopping experience—often accompanied by rudeness as people dash for that last toy or parking spot—as well as cooking, cleaning and reconnecting with family members, can all wear people down to the point of physical illness.

Lynda Hiatt, a licensed clinical social worker, told The Spectrum, "It's a very natural thing to lean toward the negative rather than the positive unless we've trained ourselves to stay focused on the positive.”

Opinion & Analysis: Forging a new definition of “Happy Holiday”

Experts stress that the key for a happy holiday spent alone is to veer away from self-pity and channel energies into modes of relaxation. They suggest celebrating holiday traditions that need not be shared with family, such as decorating and making traditional foods.

Or, as Jennifer O’Hara writes in the Star-Gazette, watch a holiday-themed movie portraying a family even more dysfunctional than your own. O’Hara suggests “A Christmas Story,” the 1980s National Lampoon movie, “Christmas Vacation” and the Frank Capra movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” As she puts it, “Nothing says ‘Merry Christmas’ like a half-deaf, suicidal patriarch rescued from the brink of financial collapse.”

Intertwined with that movie’s message, however, is the joy in helping strangers. Seasonal singletons can volunteer at homeless shelters, schools and nursing homes through the holiday season and help to complete a missing link in other peoples’ lives.

“More often than not, our wards are very lonely,” Brandy Ottmeyer, a case worker who works with senior citizens in the Houston area, said. “All they want is a friendly face to talk to, play cards or do activities with them. One of our main goals is to recruit volunteers to come in and sit with the wards.”

Related Topic: Coping with SAD

For some people, the fall and winter months offer the excitement of a white Christmas, cheerful festivals, hours on the ski slopes and a perfect excuse to curl up under a blanket with a good book. But for others, the season is just plain dreadful. Fall and winter can cause a condition called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which affects 20 percent of people in the United States.

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