The holiday season is often associated with joy, warmth, and celebration. However, for some mental health therapists, it can also be a stressful time due to different factors, including, bringing to the surface challenging emotions related to childhood negative experiences. In this section, we explore some barriers to enjoyment and ways to enhance the holiday experience for all mental health professionals to promote overall wellbeing and happiness.
As mental health professionals, it's important to recognize that holiday celebrations can evoke a wide range of emotions, and individuals (our clients, our loved ones, or ourselves) may experience heightened sensitivity or overwhelm during this time. Several factors may contribute to these emotional triggers:
Family Dynamics: Holiday gatherings often involve spending time with family members. For some individuals, family dynamics may be challenging, also triggering memories of past conflicts or unresolved issues. Expectations of a perfect family gathering can lead to disappointment and emotional distress.
Loss and Grief: Holidays can magnify the sense of loss, especially for those who have experienced the death of a loved one or significant life changes. The absence of someone special during celebrations can intensify feelings of sadness, loneliness, and grief.
Social Comparison: The holiday season is often portrayed as a time of joy and togetherness in media and society. Individuals may compare their own experiences to these idealized images, leading to feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, or a sense of not measuring up.
Financial Stress: The pressure to give and receive gifts, host gatherings, and engage in various activities can create financial strain. Concerns about budgeting and meeting societal expectations may contribute to stress and anxiety during the holiday season.
Expectations and Perfectionism: Society often places unrealistic expectations on how holidays should be celebrated. The pressure to create the "perfect" holiday experience can lead to stress, perfectionism, and a fear of disappointing oneself or others.
Memories of Trauma: For individuals with a history of trauma, the holidays can trigger memories associated with past negative experiences. Themes of family, celebration, and tradition may unintentionally remind individuals of distressing events, contributing to emotional distress.
Let's explore a little bit further the last factor. Therapists, like everyone else, may find themselves confronting emotions tied to childhood wounds or challenging memories during this time. In order to expand this idea further, we are going to use a personal recount that seems to be a common experience among many therapists.
The Black Cloud Theory
When I was growing up, drama became a part of all my holidays. My father, who struggled with alcohol, would always have explosive yelling episodes during gatherings and celebrations. Whether it was a birthday, Christmas, New Year, or any other occasion, they were all filled with negative emotions and yelling. As you may guess, these episodes did not occur only during celebrations, but for some reason, they heightened during those times.
Years later, my older sister and I experienced negative emotions around holidays and celebrations. No matter how happy a party or celebration could be, we would always carry the internal fear that something was going to go wrong. In fact, the happier the event was, the bigger the fear we would have. We definitively internalized a pattern of good moments followed by bad moments. If the pattern is yellow - blue - yellow, then when you are in yellow, you know that blue is coming next. Makes sense?
We called this "the black cloud," making reference to a childhood cartoon. In an episode, the Pink Panther would happily go out for a picnic, and a black cloud would follow him/her (not sure of the gender of this character). If she moved to the right, the cloud would move to the right and rain over her head. The Pink Panther tried to run away, hide, or do anything to free herself from it, but this black rainy cloud followed her everywhere. This is exactly how we felt with my sister. It did not matter how many years passed or if we were both living in a different city (I was even in a different country), or if our dad was deceased long ago. The black cloud, those feelings from childhood, followed us everywhere. I have used this concept to explain to many of my clients the impact of DV or chronic childhood adverse experiences. This is the episode that represented our experience:
It took us a long time and inner work to get rid of the black cloud and start enjoying celebrations. Today, I not only guide clients to get rid of their black clouds but also make sure that my celebrations are joyful moments.
What are YOUR childhood experiences? How do you celebrate events today? Do you run around your home feeling that you would not finish preparing on time, repeating your mother's anxiety? Do you get uneasy feelings at any particular date? How about your behaviors when it's your birthday? Do you disagree with your partner about how to celebrate holidays?
At Glow My Space, we invite you to take a moment to think about your own emotions and behaviors around celebrations. If there is a black cloud, address it. Find a safe therapeutic space to process it. You deserve to have happy celebrations. Be creative in how you want to celebrate from now on. Plan ahead. Explore ways to make your events happy and memorable.
Redefine holiday celebrations in a way that aligns with your values and preferences. This may involve establishing new traditions, focusing on meaningful connections, or simply enjoying preparations. Engage in activities that bring you joy, whether it's reading a book, cooking a special meal, or throwing a big party.
Holiday Celebration Inspiration & Ideas for Therapists
Explore ideas and plan seasonal activities with your family, your teams, or your clients. Since we are always adding new ideas, you may want to visit this section again when looking for inspiration before a celebration. Cheers to the resilient and joyful you!
We have crafted an album of adorable meal pictures you may probably replicate without reading any recipe. Which one would you be prepping for your next celebration?
Holiday Games & Activities
Explore games that can add joy and a festive spirit to any gathering, whether it's with family, friends, or your team. You may also suggest the games to the families/clients you work with.
To explore other areas of self-care as a therapist