During a couple’s therapy session, the wife tells me, “For the last 10 years in our marriage, every festive season we have arguments, and our relationship gets really strained.”
The husband’s response: “I agree with her and yet it feels sad to know that most of our memories around festivities are scarred by the fights we have almost every year. Can we work towards changing this and learn ways to avoid these conflicts?”
In my work across cultures, organisations and individuals, I have observed that festivals and the holiday season are times when people experience strain and often feel stretched. This theme makes its appearance felt in many therapy sessions, across age groups. Whether it’s couples, young adults, senior citizens, people who are single, so many of them talk about how this time can be hard and yet difficult to articulate.
This period is particularly tough for anyone who is grieving the loss of an intimate relationship due to breakup, separation, misunderstanding or death. So too for people who have lost jobs, businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic and those struggling with financial security.
We think of the festive season as a period of cheer and celebration, yet, like birthdays, it can evoke all kinds of emotions and memories. Often, clients in therapy report that just ahead of festivities and holidays, they begin to experience pressure and stress in relation to expectations, family traditions, finances, even feeling overwhelmed by social events. This period is marked by a sentiment of togetherness, yet so many people mention how lonely they feel either in their relationships or in large family gatherings. A 40-year client mentioned, “While we will take pictures, exchange gifts with our extended family, it feels superficial since no one actually cares or even knows about what’s happening in each other’s life.”
Loneliness, feeling discriminated against, not being treated fairly are concerns that people report very often. Conflict around family rituals and strain experienced in relation to finances owing to the gifting culture are other concerns that make it to therapy sessions. Clients often mention that scrolling and checking social media during the festive season evokes a feeling of sadness, social comparison and a narrative of scarcity, where they constantly feel their life is not as good as that of others.
If you feel you associate this season with a low-lying feeling of sadness, increased anxiety or a low patience and frustration threshold, it would be good to become aware and acknowledge this. Second, allow yourself to feel the conflicting feelings and begin by naming each. The very process of naming the feeling can allow us to figure out how we want to address the situation.
If you feel overwhelmed when it comes to social engagements, talk to family members if they are open to listening. Otherwise, when possible, try to make a conscious choice about how and for how long you want to engage and stay for gatherings. For families, setting realistic goals when it comes to finances, and communicating about it before, helps.
If you are feeling sad or anxious, do not scroll or spend time on social media since that can worsen your mood. Maybe reset your relationship with social media, it’s okay to take a digital detox.
If you are grieving, learn to be kind to yourself as this time is a reminder of loss and the absence of people who mattered. It’s okay to tell family members that you may not want to engage in rituals or mark the occasion.
Also read: Make room for hope during the pandemic
Sustaining familiar routines, choosing to exercise, engaging in self-soothing rituals and getting enough sleep can be helpful.
Perhaps the festive season is a reminder of latent concerns that often go unaddressed. It’s a moment to ask ourselves how we can address them, on our own or with others.
Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali.