You are probably experiencing it now: December feels different than any other month.
Why does December feel so hard?
December is full of end-of-year reflections. We face constant messages about new year’s resolutions that ask us to evaluate our lives, identify shortcomings and disappointments, and create promises of change. We also reflect on how our lives might look different now than in the past, and that means remembering the people, families, and loved ones that may no longer be sitting at the table with us.
December is also difficult at work. We face stressful end-of-the-year deadlines, holiday parties and increased socializing with coworkers, and a looming vacation that can’t seem to come soon enough. All of this happens in the setting of darker days and colder weather that creates a feeling of heaviness.
“As humans we associate significant memories related to the holidays,” writes Houston therapist Jessica Eiseman in her article Note to Self: the Holidays Can be Hard. This time of year, many of us feel amplified feelings of:
- Loneliness. We receive a barrage of messages about what our families should look like, what our friends should look like, and what our holiday social life should look like. Our own experiences probably look different than the TV images of smiling families gathering around a fireplace or large dinner table. All of these December messages encourage us to compare our lives to the fictional ones we see in ads, the embellished ones we hear about from friends or on social media, or the nostalgic past that we once experienced.
- Grief. During this time of year we often remember loved ones who are no longer in our lives. As someone who went to grief therapy, Jess P. writes in our #VoicesOfTherapy series, “This will be the third Christmas Eve without my father…This will be the third Christmas Eve my dad won’t parade his glorious purchase of too many fireworks…Loss is a complicated web of emotions.” In December when we gather with family or just pause to remember, we may feel grief more than we do in other, less reflective, months.
- Anger. During December, many of us find ourselves interacting with family members who we don’t often see. Some of them might have hurt us in the past or might continue to hurt us in the present. We are confronted with anger and unresolved tension, and often struggle to set boundaries or voice our feelings because we feel expected to exude “holiday cheer.” As Cypress therapist Mike Hodson writes in 3 Tips To Help Survive the Holidays with Family, “Being back with your family of origin over the holidays has a way of almost erasing [your adult] identity and making you feel eight years old all over again!”
- Financial stress. Gifts are expensive! Many of us feel expected to bring gifts to children, neighbors, family, and coworkers. With very little time to make our own gifts, we turn to shopping for material items – all of which strain our limited budgets.
- Disagreement with coworkers. In the anonymous data we get at Mental Health Match, people reporting issues with coworkers this time of year. At work, deadlines are tight and holiday parties require more socializing than we are used to.
- Shame and body-image. Two things happen in December that affect the way we love our bodies. We are surrounded by candy and treats, and we hear constant messages about the exercise programs and diets we should embrace in January. For many of us, we experience December as feelings of guilt and shame about our bodies.
What can we do to make December feel better?
Create a new tradition. Jessica Eiseman suggests, “Make the holidays something you can enjoy.” That can mean taking a trip by yourself or going to see a performance. Consider a tradition that helps you honor the life of a lost loved one or a tradition that helps you love yourself and your body. For other ideas for free or affordable self-care, check out the advice of Houston therapist Anne Russey in 10 Free (or cheap) Strategies for Self Care.
Set boundaries. Mike Hodson writes, “This could range from simply not engaging in certain discussions or activities to verbally telling family members what you are and are not comfortable with.” You can also set boundaries with your coworkers about protecting your weekends and time off during December. Maybe you even skip the holiday party!
Remember you are “gloriously human,” to borrow a phrase from Houston therapist Kristen Suleman. As Kristen writes in The Things More of Us Struggle With than We Realize:
We aren’t alone with our worries or our struggles with self-acceptance…it comes with the human experience. It comes with the territory… So, the next time you catch yourself being hard on yourself, the next time you are feeling behind in life, the next time you are feeling not good enough or feeling like a failure, the next time you feel burnt out but can’t seem to give yourself a break, the next time you find yourself telling someone “I’m fine!” when you know damn well you’re not, I beg of you, please take a second to pause. Check-in with yourself, take a few deep breaths and remind yourself of this: at the end of the day, we are all gloriously human. We are all messy, imperfect, beautiful, ever-evolving, continuous works in progress. (And deep down, a lot of us are more alike than we think).
Talk with a professional. Therapists know that December is a difficult month for nearly everyone. Every year, they help dozens of people cultivate self-compassion and healing. You can discover the therapist who best for you by taking our anonymous quiz today. Wondering what therapy is like? Check out our #VoicesOfTherapy Series featuring real insights and stories from people who have talked with a therapist.
Mental Health Match knows that if you are feeling down this month, you are definitely not alone. The December struggle is real for all of us. So we wish you a December full of self-compassion, gratitude, and a reminder that you are wonderful just the way you are.