With the holidays approaching, the anxiety level of some of my clients (and yes, my own) has increased about ten-fold. The days are getting shorter, it’s dark by 5pm, and many of us here in New England are dreaming of all the trappings of a White Christmas: agonizing about the buying of gifts, figuring out how to brave five + hours of driving in a blizzard (extra courage points if there are children in tow), already bracing ourselves for the comments of that one relative that says something terrible every year that everyone pretends they didn’t hear, and so on.
While the holidays come with some amount of headache for all of us, many of us will make the trek home anyway, to ultimately enjoy the pleasure of the company of family and friends. For some, however, holiday attendance tops the list of Things That We Don’t Want To Do But Feel like We Must Do Because Everyone Else Does. For those folks, I’m proposing the completely radical notion that holiday attendance is NOT mandatory, and in fact, sometimes skipping the holidays is healthy and preferred.
Here are three legitimate reasons NOT to go home for the holidays:
You can’t afford it.
Financial stress around the holiday season gets Very Real. I’ve supported a number of clients through maxing out credit cards on gifts and travel expenses only to spend the entire holiday feeling angry with their families for all the money they’ve spent and frantically doing the math of how to get through to their next paycheck. There is no reason to go into debt just because it’s December, and holiday-related financial stressors contribute to anxiety and depression. This is a real problem for many, and is talked about far too little. If you relate to this problem, I encourage you to be transparent: Let your family know that the travel is too expensive or that gifts aren’t going to be possible this year. Hopefully, they will hear and respect your choice. If they make it a whole Big Thing, then it’s better to sort through that mess now than to feel obliged to relive the problem year after year. Rip off that Band-Aid and talk it out.
It’s not a healthy event.
For some families, the holidays are not a good time. If you anticipate going home to a family member or members with serious anger management problems, active addiction issues, shaming or emotionally unsafe tendencies, etc., or if your family system is generally an unhealthy, enabling, or triggering one, the going home for holidays may feel more like a test of your emotional stability than a fun and relaxing time. If you find yourself dreading going home for these reasons, I gently invite you to consider an alternative, like attending the holiday at a friend’s house, or spending the day at home just with your partner. You do not need to be with your family if they are not healthy for you. This is allowed, and totally okay.
You can’t muster the holiday spirit.
Unfortunately, holiday time can be rife with pain and loss for some of us. For those to whom the holidays represent the anniversary of a significant loss or hardship, all of the mandated cheer just reinforces feelings of isolation, loneliness, or grief. To these folks, I encourage you to give yourself permission to hold space for your emotions, even if they are Not Cheery. Give yourself as much time as you need, even if that deadline extends past Christmas. If you need to make room for Sadness each year, go ahead and sit with that. Your people will understand.
I realize that there are many people who absolutely love the holidays, and to them I extend a sincere That’s Really Awesome. Please enjoy the heck out of them for everyone that finds them difficult. For everyone else that finds themselves thinking about the holidays as more of a “Have to” than a “Want to”, take some time to listen to the reasons behind your hesitancy to go home. Consider your own feelings as you consider everyone else’s. If your gut is telling you it’s not a good idea, give yourself the gift of not going this year.