Holidays mean different things to different people. For some it's a time to get together and enjoy the company of family and friends. For others, it's a lonely time when everyone else seems to be busy and happy. For yet others, it's a stressful time, trying to fulfill the expectations--often unrealistic--of self and others.
And once the holidays are over, we still go different ways. Some look forward to things slowing down and to getting back into a familiar daily routine. For others, life suddenly feels empty, with nothing to look forward to except the daily grind and regret about overindulging or overspending. Some are left with a bad taste because getting together with family and friends was disappointing or frustrating.
In any case, it's helpful to look back at what happened over the holidays and why.
1. If you're one of those who feel let down after the holidays because it seems there's nothing to look forward to now, can you schedule an activity here and there that you enjoy? Going for a walk, listening to music, having lunch with a friend--anything to interrupt the routine that seems so empty can possibly help. When I was really depressed, I discovered that even small things that interrupted my routine helped. Taking a shower in the morning rather than in the evening, driving to work by a different route, even trying different foods or changing my bedtime or wakeup time by even half an hour often jolted me out of the depths of depression.
2. If the holidays were disappointing, if you went through a lot of trouble to make the holidays "perfect," and others didn't seem to appreciate your efforts, if your holiday dinner turned into an argument, if someone wasn't as pleased with your gift as you'd hoped, if you're now faced with bills for gifts you felt obliged to buy but really couldn't afford, realize that you need begin taking more control of your life. Ask yourself: Are you a people pleaser? Do you feel you must do what somebody else wants? What do you fear will happen if you don't?
I'll hurt their feelings. It's good to consider the feelings of others, but plenty of people use "hurt feelings" to control others, so it's important to distinguish between justified and unjustified hurt feelings. How do you do this? Consider: Are their expectations reasonable? Are they asking you to do something that is necessary or is it simply something they just want? How often do they make such requests? Are they playing helpless? Is this a one-way relationship? A healthy relationship means the other person respects your right to limit favors and even to say "No." If someone doesn't recognize your rights, you must say "No." And don't look back! It's the only way out of this trap. If you need help to do this, get help!
But they'll punish me if I say "No." If you're in this situation, you're experiencing the worst form of emotional blackmail, and it requires you to take a drastic step. Some people might stop talking and interacting with you if you don't do what they want. I know several people who haven't spoken to each other for years. Interestingly, when asked what caused the rift, some of them couldn't even remember, but they were determined to hold onto their grudge! I know people who aren't able to see their own grandchildren because they said "No" to an unreasonable request. I know a man who spent his whole adult life at the beck and call of a wealthy parent who threatened to disinherit him if he didn't do what the parent wanted. By the way, the parent lived to be over one hundred years old! If you're trapped in a situation like this and feel unable to stand up for yourself, please get professional help.
3. If you find yourself paying the price for overindulging or overspending in order to escape dealing with grief, realize that occasions of loss and anniversaries of loss can trigger depression. Grief is a process, and it isn't the same for everyone, but overindulging in an attempt to avoid grief only prolongs the process. If you've been caught in the pattern of overindulging to avoid grieving, and it's gone on for more than a year, you need to get help. What has happened is the past. You can't change it, but you--and only you--get to decide whether your future is to be more of the same.
By this time, you may be saying, "Oh, all this woman is doing is telling me to get help."
I know that it's hard to admit you need help and to ask for it, but consider this: If your car breaks down and you can't fix it, do you choose to live without a car, or do you go to someone who knows how to fix it?
If you're really unhappy with your life, and you don't know what to do or how to fix things, do you choose to go on being miserable, or do you find someone who knows how to make things better?
Stephanie Kay Bendel is the author of EXIT THE LABYRINTH: A Memoir of Early Childhood Depression – Its Onset and Aftermath, MAKING CRIME PAY: A Practical Guide to Mystery Writing, and A SCREAM AWAY, a romantic thriller published under the house name, Andrea Harris. She has also written numerous short stories and articles on writing.