My holidays come with a helping of Depression and a side of anxiety.  The truth is that it’s not always so easy to have a “happy holidays.”

Why are the holidays so difficult to navigate when it comes to mental health?  I believe this is because we must come face to face with our family dysfunctions.  Even if we still live at home, the holidays seem to bring a special blend of family dysfunction we’re not always used to.  Over the next few weeks, I will be address specific family dynamics that can make the holidays especially difficult.  I will also be providing some recommended coping skills for each subject.

While this may seem like a shameless plug, I encourage you to seek counseling over any of these issues.  This and subsequent blog posts do not replace mental health counseling.  They are opinion pieces that I provide based on my knowledge of counseling and mental health as well as strategies and coping skills that I have seen work well in the past for clients as well as myself.  Without further ado, let’s jump into it!

Taboo Subjects

For example, perhaps there are certain taboo subjects in your family such as politics, religion, or some past event that transpired within your family.  We often want to process those kinds of subjects because we have specific thoughts and feelings about them.  We usually want those thoughts and feelings validated.

A principle of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy states that emotions are self-protective.  When they are invalidated, they grow stronger.  This is what leads to behaviors such as yelling or threatening harm to self or others for something that seemed really small at first.  It’s the proverbial, mountains out of molehills conundrum which is a very invalidating statement.

Somehow, these taboo subjects, maybe a person’s infidelity, sexuality, drug/alcohol abuse, etc., seem to always come up at family gatherings.  I believe this is because the family is trying to process their experiences, seeking healthy validation, but just ends up sweeping it under the rug.  Much of this fear of addressing such things comes from a lack of coping skills or understanding of healthy communication.

Some Suggestions

Keep a journal with you if this is a pattern your family engages in.  It can even be a handy journal app in your smartphone!  Why not?  We always have our smartphones.  Ergo, you’ll always have your journal.

Write down your thoughts and feelings.  This act alone is extremely self-validating of what you’re thinking and feeling.  The externalization of what’s going through your head can also provide clarity.  This way, you can better assess if you are truly overreacting to something or if your thoughts and feelings are well-founded.  Even if you are overreacting, this exercise can help you process why.

Self-examination and self-understanding are critical to self-compassion.  Do NOT undervalue this!  Sitting with our feelings especially in a family environment we find frustrating doesn’t always feel good.  However, this will help you in the long term and may make future family gatherings easier.  Hang in there!  This is worth it.

As always, these are healthy topics to process in counseling.  Many times, we also project the things that we feel most insecure about onto the people around us.  There might be a chance that your family may respond more easily to you if you have already processed these triggering issues.  Take some time to invest in a few counseling sessions to strategize and plan for the holidays and how you want to face them.  Getting counseling doesn’t mean that you are broken or that anything is wrong with you.  It is normal to need some help processing these kinds of difficult subjects and family patterns and learn to accept ourselves even if we’re alone in that for a time.