MamaBlogger365 – The Shadow of the Holiday Blues by Patti Ashley, Ph.D.

Even though this is the time of year that is supposed to be joyous, many people experience sadness and melancholy, or what has come to be known as the holiday blues. Studies have shown that woman suffer more than men with the holiday blues.

My book Mothering Beyond Image: Living in the Shadow of the Too-Good Mother describes five common themes that women experience as mothers. When thinking about the holiday blues, it is easy to compare the five themes in the book to the stress of this time of year. Below is a list of the five themes, how they can relate to the holidays and how bringing them out of the shadow and into the light can help beat the holiday blues.

1) Unrealistic expectations, judgment and guilt are large contributors to holiday stress. The desire to have the “perfect” holiday runs rampant in the lives of women as mothers. Memories of loved ones being together during the holiday come into our minds, old greeting cards and pictures emerge when we open the holiday decorations, and the longing for the ideal family surfaces as we watch the media portrayals of the perfect family holiday scenes.

Holiday Blues Suggestions for Theme #1:

* Recognize when you are trying to create the perfect holiday and ease up on the expectations.
* Don’t compare yourself to other mothers or families.
* Don’t try to relive previous holiday memories–make new ones each year.
* Don’t allow yourself to feel guilty if you can’t do it all.
* Love yourself. Period.

2) Self-care and support systems often fall short for women as mothers, especially during the rush of the holiday season when there seems to be very little time for ourselves. It is easy for women to put others first, and neglect their own needs. Remembering the oxygen mask is the title of this theme because it is helpful to remember how the flight attendant on an airplane always instructs adults traveling with small children to put on their own oxygen mask before their child’s during an emergency. This is because it is essential to take care of the caretaker FIRST!

Holiday Blues Suggestions for Theme #2:

* Take short breaks each day to rest and relax.
* Remember to take deep breaths when feeling stressed or overwhelmed.
* Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
* Limit the amount of things you plan to do each day.
* Eat healthy foods.
* Exercise.
* Get fresh air.
* Get a sitter!
* Hire a housekeeper.

3) Loving and letting go is both the most important as well as difficult thing to do as mothers. True love requires letting children be who they are without demanding that they meet anyone else’s expectations. For example, possibly your child has begun to practice Buddhism and does not want to participate in the family traditions this year. How do you handle that? Can you love your child regardless of where he or she goes in life? For smaller children, what if the perfect Christmas play becomes a disaster when the costume falls apart and the lines are all mixed up. Can we let go and love them just the same?

Holiday Blues Suggestions for Theme #3:

* Recognize that true love is letting go.
* Witness your child as unique and don’t compare him/her to others.
* Enjoy the small moments, such as hot chocolate by the fire.
* Let go of the need to have the perfect holiday.
* Love your child(ren) whether or not they will be home for the holidays.
* Send care packages if they are far away.
* Acknowledge and honor the uniqueness of each child.

4) The paradox of parenting is evident when we acknowledge how raising children is simultaneously both joyful and painful at the same time. Often times when we want to discredit the pain and cut it off, we actually create more pain. As Carl Jung stated: “What we resist, persists.” When we strive to have the perfect holiday, we also disallow the sadness of old grief, financial challenges or other burdens. In doing so, we might actually create more holiday blues.

Holiday Blues Suggestions for Theme #4:

* When you are feeling blue, take some time to journal about your feelings.
* Talk to friends.
* Talk to a therapist or spiritual counselor.
* Recognize old grief and allow for expression through journaling, crying or other methods of grieving.
* Cry as much as you want to cry.
* Don’t minimize your experience. It is real because it belongs to you.
* Remember that this shall pass and the holidays won’t always be so difficult.

5) Identity, self-esteem and advocacy relates to feeling good about yourself and being able stand up for what you believe in. Be sure the holiday is what you want it to be, not someone else. We all have to negotiate what we need during the holidays, but too much sacrifice is neglectful. Talk with your family and friends about how you envision your holiday and find ways to balance your needs with the needs of loved ones.

Holiday Blues Suggestions for Theme #5:

* Decorate–only if you want to!
* Tell family and friends how you want to share the holidays.
* Negotiate gift giving so that everyone feels comfortable.
* Find alternative gifts that are not material, such as IOUs for massage, poetry reading, housekeeping, etc.
* Say no to demands for expensive gifts, unless you can afford them.
* DON’T use any credit cards!

These are just a few thoughts on the shadow of the holiday blues. Recognizing the dark unconscious can often shed light on the truth and help shake the blues. My wish for you and your family in this season of light is to find the strength to be true to yourself and live fully in the moment.

“Many people think that the shadow is the opposite of love, when actually it is the way to love.” Deepak Chopra

About Patti Ashley: Mothering Beyond Image helps women connect more deeply to themselves and others, therefore feeling more authentic, mindful and whole. I will be presenting the five main themes from the soon-to-be-released book in a weekend workshop in Scottsdale, AZ, on March 9 & 10, 2012. For more information, or to register for the weekend, please visit www.motheringbeyondimage.com/workshops. Please sign up to be on my mailing list to stay updated on workshop information. Mothers always want to know whether or not they are doing a good job. This workshop will help you know that you ARE!

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Photo credit: cohdra|MorgueFile

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