Take a few seconds to consider the past month. How has your holiday season been? Joyful? Exhausting? Fun? Lonely? Or maybe a sprinkling of varied emotions?

The holidays can be emotionally chaotic. They may offer moments of increased connection through holiday parties and family gatherings, but they also can be isolating, especially for caregivers and our aging loved ones, who may have lost friends or family during the year. Isolation, depression, and anxiety are common issues for both older folks and caregivers, but these problems often intensify through the stresses and loneliness that many experience in December.

The outer world may tell us through the flood of holiday movies, decorations, and music that we should be filled with joy and warm family feelings, but our lives may be so far from the happy chaos of a Christmas movie that we might feel sad or even a little Scrooge-like at times.

What can you do if you have the blues while the rest of the world seems to be dipped in holiday bliss?

1) Reset Your Reality
Life is not a Christmas movie, unfortunately. No one is living in that reality, even if they seem to be overrun with cheerful family and friends. We’ve all got problems. One year, a friend confided that she had been envious of a seemingly perfect family who shared regular happy updates on Facebook. Her life was in chaos with a child with learning differences, a messy marriage, and a father who was beginning to need caregiving assistance. Then one of the perfect family’s children was diagnosed with leukemia. Suddenly, my friend’s life seemed wonderful, and she was inundated with guilt about her former envious feelings. Life can and does switch on a dime. We all will encounter challenging and painful periods. If this holiday season has been one for you, try to remember that it is only this season. Turn off your social media if it’s getting you down. Comparing yourself to the overly happy photos that people share on Instagram can contribute to depression. Remember nobody’s life is their social media feed, and comparisons to imaginary realities can make you devalue your own.

2) Fight Back
If you are feeling sad, take time to notice the running commentary in your mind. Is it saying, “No one likes me,” “Everyone else has more fun,” or even something more dire, such as “I don’t see the point of life?” That is your own brain attacking you. Fight back. If you think something, such as “My life is only tending to others and there’s nothing for me,” then argue with yourself. Tell yourself, “That’s not true. I love taking the time to share these moments with my ailing loved one. I also make time for myself, and here’s how I’m going to do that today.” Then make a plan. Every time you hear Negative Nelly in your brain telling you how awful you or your life are, tell her, “No, that’s not true,” and search for ways to make things better.

3) Wallowing Can Be Okay
While fighting negative thought patterns is important, it’s also vital to allow some free reign to your emotions. Wallowing in your own misery is not always a bad thing. If you’re watching a beloved family member or friend die or fall into worse health, it’s hard to find the bright side. If you’re exhausted from caring for ailing parents and a grouchy teenager, you may need to vent. So make sure to give yourself time to wallow, but simultaneously give yourself a time limit. Call a friend and complain for 10 minutes, then stop and ask them about their life. If you’re at home, spew out your misery in a journal. Or soak in a bath and think about all of the tragedies of your life. Again, though, only allow 10 or 15 minutes to wallow, and then force yourself to think of other things. If you have to, put a rubber band on your wrist and snap yourself every time you drift back into the painful thought cycle. Put on a favorite comedy or grab a thrilling novel or audiobook to reset your thoughts. We need to process our emotions, but we also need space away from them. If you’re in the thick of pain, you may need several wallowing sessions each day, but, if possible, try to make the rest of your day consist of thoughts that don’t cause you pain.

Also, remember that, as a caregiver, you are doing vital work, and one day, you may look back on the travails of this period with warmth and misty recollections. So relax, smile, and try to turn your “Bah humbug” into a “Happy holidays!”

Thank you for reading, please share with a friend, and be well. —KK

Please consider donating to the Kathi Koll Foundation so you can help make a difference in struggling family caregivers’ lives. Thank you!

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