The holiday season is commonly depicted as a snow covered and joyous season for all. In movies we see nothing but holiday cheer, heart warming stories, and everyone being happy during the holidays. It makes sense that this time of year is filled with kind interactions and high spirits. Everyone has to be nice for Santa, right? But what about those who are not enjoying the holidays? Not the Grinch and Scrooge types, but everyone who is struggling with a mental illness. With all the holiday spirit, mental health struggles are often pushed under the rug. The happy thoughts and the cheer can distract us from struggles already hard to identify. Many struggle with the stress that comes with making the holidays perfect for others, while some are reminded of better times.
When many struggle with the stress that comes with making the holidays perfect, the problem often lies in expectations. As children, we learn what to expect during the holidays: the decorations, gifts, specialty foods, sweets, and all the fun activities and countless festive gatherings. Youngsters cannot understand how this affects our parents and others. As we grow and mature into young adults, we start to be more mindful as we may see and experience the true toll the holidays may take on our loved ones. Much of the stress comes from the expectation that parents feel they need to exceed.
One of my favorite stories of holiday stress comes from my parents. When my sister was a toddler she begged and begged for a “Tickle Me Elmo.” Unfortunately for my parents, every other toddler in America was also begging for this popular toy. My father went to toy store after toy store days before Christmas trying to find this sold out toy. After days of searching, he finally got his hands on an Elmo with Christmas Eve hours away. After all his work, on Christmas Day his daughter unwrapped it, took it out of the box, and never touched it again. I often compare this story to the plot of “Jingle All The Way.” This movie follows a father, Arnold Schwarzenegger, on his quest to find the most sought after superhero action figure, ultimately ending with a total lack of interest in the toy from his son. This story seems to repeat every year. Parents go through a heck of a time, just for a few moments of joy for their kids.
While some are struggling with a bar that may have been set too high, others are fighting an internal struggle as the holiday season tears the bandage off old wounds. Perhaps you're missing a loved one, or maybe you're feeling blue due to the fact that despite your best efforts, the veil of depression won't lift to let the light of the season shine through. Holidays can be a source of loneliness and can make the winter even longer and colder than it already is. College students who can’t make it home for this season are often exposed to intense loneliness, similar to the feelings felt by estranged family members.
It is important to be mindful of others this holiday season and be aware of what others are going through. Although we can never know exactly what someone is feeling, we can still help those who are struggling on the inside by being with them in their time of need. 'Tis the season to be merry. Perhaps you can share your joy with someone in need this year. Love heals.
by Keegan McGonigal
About the Author
Keegan McGonigal is currently an intern with i understand for the 2016-2017 school year. He is a senior at Kent Innovation High School, soccer player, and mental health advocate.