Are you wondering how to deal with stress, expectations, grief and depression this holiday season?

Hello.  Welcome to the expectation that this holiday season be  the ‘happiest time of the year’.  We all have a soup of demands from over-the-top gift giving, to tense family get togethers, to shorter and shorter days, to colder and colder weather and to excessive amounts of food and drink.  No wonder we don’t know where the ‘Happy Holidays’ went.

So how to deal with this season?  First, consider your judgments about who you should be, how your house should be, how your children should be or how you should feel, think or behave.  Then move on and surrender your comparisons to those elusive perfect others.
For example, ‘they  have more friends and are invited to more parties’ or ‘their children all get along perfectly’ or ‘her house is beautifully decorated and if you drop by at any time, you will be welcomed’.

As a psychotherapist since 1990, I’ve learned that the people I make up in my mind do not exist.   In fact, a friend of mine, who is wise and kind, told me recently how lonely she feels.  Rather than hiding the ‘secret’ we spend so much energy trying to conceal, (you know, the secret that we actually DON’T have it all together) she was completely transparent.  And her transparency only caused me to feel closer to her because the secret was dropped.  I then could tell her about my own fears and sadness.  There was no pretense between us.

kids walking toward the M in peaceSo, how about you and I join my friend this season and reveal our ‘secret’ and call this season a time of claiming our humanity instead of the coverup we are so often invested in.  What if we put aside any shame we have about the complexities of our lives and reveal ourselves, just as we are.   At that Christmas party you might tell the person next to you that it’s hard celebrating the holidays because you miss your adult children, or all of this ‘hoopla’ makes you think you’re missing out.  Perhaps that person will also open up, and soon you will both feel less alone.  And anyway, isn’t that closer to the meaning of the holidays—to experience the wonder of connection?

This season is a time of darkness in which we can bring light so I recommend we invite some non-duality into our celebrations this year.  It actually is a time to both mourn the loss of those we love, and at the same time, share our stories about what that person means to us.  It is a time to open to the experience of being human with all the complications that entails.  Certainly the story of Christmas is about the underdog in the manager who becomes a Savior in the world.  This Christmas story celebrates birth and if you stay with the story, death and resurrection.  Or consider the story of the Buddha who attained enlightenment on December 8 after a long struggle, alone and hungry.  Both of these stories and many in the traditions of this season, offer the fullness of being human—all of it.

So if you are grieving, or stressed or depressed this season, if you are weighed down with thoughts of how you should be or how others are, this is the season to be in the darkness and walk your heart into the light by claiming you as a human being.

As Scott Peck said in his popular book, The Road Less Traveled, “Life is difficult and once we truly know that life is difficult—once we truly understand and accept it—then life is no longer difficult.” And in the same vein, once we understand that there is, sitting right beside joy—grief and stress and depression, perhaps especially during this season, we can then release any expectation that our children, or partner, or sister, or colleague or tummy should be different, and instead fully embrace our life as it is.

May I suggest that the way to deal with the stress and burden of this season is not with 10 tips you can google and read once and put aside, but instead with the courage and heart to embrace It All.  The hunger and loss experienced under the Bodi tree or the poverty of a manger do stand alongside the enlightenment and the hope that both of these stories invite.  Invite the sacredness that is in you at this holiday or ‘holy day’ to open you to the wonder of you—your grief, your relief, your delight with a grandchild or your despair when you witness the struggle of humanity. Slow down enough to embrace the fullness of the dark and the light that is all around us. In the true spirit of the holidays, let the darkness of your moods lead you back up to the light, and you will likely find more of the true meaning of this season than you expected.


Jan Matney, LCPC is the Director of the nCenter in Bozeman and Belgrade.