There are plenty of reasons why New Year's Eve can elicit feelings of depression, wistfulness, and even regret about the past year. In our society there is immense pressure to make New Year's Eve the ultimate celebration, watch the ball drop, share a New Year’s kiss at midnight, and set resolutions. But what if you don’t have anyone to share a kiss with, a party to go to, or feel like the past year was a wash? It can be difficult to get motivated to go out and celebrate. It is important to keep in mind that these traditions were brought about by the commercialization of New Year's Eve and it is okay if you don’t feel up for buying into it this year.
Certain people are definitely at higher risk of feeling bad during New Year's Eve such as those who recently experienced a loss or breakup, people who are newly sober, or anyone who is coming out of a particularly tough holiday season. In terms of those who are more susceptible to feeling bad about staying home, NYE at home is the ultimate FOMO. The “shoulds” are endless. Then, to make it worse, you are home alone instead of having all the distractions that being out with others would bring. If you are extroverted and get energized by being around others, it can be especially difficult to feel like you are forced to stay home alone because you don’t have plans with anyone. Lastly, New Year's Eve is the prime opportunity to reflect on your past year. Reflecting on the past can be very difficult for someone who has had a hard year or someone who struggles with feelings of worthlessness or never being good enough.
5 Ways to Reclaim New Year's Eve
1. As an alternative to the usual, you may try attaching personal meaning to New Year's Eve, and reclaiming it with new traditions. Do some research on traditions in other cultures for fresh starts of the new year; start a gratitude journal or just start a journal in general; clean your home; or get a new look. The easiest way to flip the script on New Year's Eve is to think about your values and come up with plans to live more in line with them. You also can reflect on the past year in a different way by writing down all the things you are grateful for, or you can make New Year's Eve the night of fresh starts and purging the old.
2. A life led in line with your personal values is the best way to truly find your authentic self and learn to appreciate it. It is important to give thought to your values and then break them down into achievable and measurable tasks that are in line with them. If you value knowledge but haven’t been in school in years, take a free class or read a new book. Then, give yourself credit for it as such. Far too often, people do things that may be right in line with what they value but because they do not frame it that way, they miss an opportunity to feel a sense of accomplishment.
3. Give yourself permission to spend New Year's Eve however you please. If you want to stay home and watch the ball drop on tv and have your own party with yourself, that would be great. If you do not want to watch any of the news coverage, that is great too. Find something enjoyable to do like watch your favorite movie, indulge in a bubble bath, and/or have your favorite food to eat. Dress up if that will make you feel better or revel in an opportunity to get cozy in PJs.
4. Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come up. If you are feeling sad or lonely, understand that emotions are not dangerous and they come and go naturally. If you try to push away an emotion, that is when you will actually perpetuate it.
5. Instead of a New Year’s Resolution, most of which end up getting broken anyway, do something to feel better about yourself that is not oriented around this tradition. If you feel the last year was a disaster or just a wash, try to give yourself permission to let that go and move on from it. Make a list of things that you are letting go of as you move into the new year. Aim for a fresh start. Maybe you have been wanting a new hair style or just want to schedule time to pamper yourself. Alternatively (or in addition), you can do a deep cleaning of your home to start the New Year fresh.
The main idea is to have a solid plan in advance for yourself, give yourself permission to feel and do what YOU please, and find your own way of symbolically moving forward. Let 2019 be about you!
When people think about symptoms of anxiety, their minds typically go to worrying, panic/anxiety attacks, and fear or phobias. They might imagine that if they were struggling with anxiety then they would feel their heart racing and feel restless for much of the time. However, there are several lesser-known symptoms of anxiety, which are not necessarily less common, but can more easily be overlooked or discounted as something else. If you notice yourself or someone you care about exhibiting these symptoms, check in with them as they may be struggling with undiagnosed anxiety.
1. Inability to let a thought go. If you just cannot seem to get off of a topic or let it go, it may be because you are anxious. A key component of executive functioning is set-shifting which involves being able to move onto the next idea or task. Anxiety decreases your ability to do this and makes it more likely that you will find yourself perseverating on small details or the same issue for days/weeks/months on end.
2. An increase in symptoms of another psychiatric disorder such as an eating disorder or depression. It may be the case that you struggle with depression or an eating disorder and those symptoms have decreased. If you have a history of an eating disorder and suddenly experience a surge in concerns about body image and eating, you may also be struggling with anxiety and it is manifesting this way. Additionally, depression and worry often go together and anxiety can trigger depression.
3. An increase in relationship problems such as becoming more controlling or nit-picky with your partner. Suddenly everything your partner does becomes really annoying and every little thing is affecting you like nails on a chalkboard. You may find yourself correcting your partner over minor things like word choice or what they are eating or doing. Often this type of critical and controlling behavior comes from a need to focus on something aside from what you are actually anxious about or you may want to feel like you have control over *something,* the latter of which is a more commonly observed and known symptom of anxiety. Another reason for this could be that you are feeling very edgy and are taking it out on the person closest to you.
4. Indecisiveness. If you find you cannot make simple decisions like what you want to eat or which pair of shoes you like, it is highly possible that you are really struggling with anxiety. It is important to ask yourself where the indecisiveness is coming from and if you are, for example, worrying about making the wrong decision and second or triple guessing yourself.
5. Procrastination. Not only might you want to avoid doing work or facing a bill in the mail, which is more common, but if you are putting off or avoiding other things like reaching out to friends or cleaning your home, you may be experiencing anxiety.
6. Sluggishness or feeling very tired can indicate that you are experiencing less restful sleep than usual or are not getting enough sleep. Difficulty sleeping is a commonly known symptom of anxiety. Also, while some get keyed up and agitated when they get anxious, some find themselves slowing down and getting sluggish. Think fight or flight.
7. Frequently getting sick. If you’re under stress, your immune system will certainly take a hit. If you find that you keep getting sick, consider whether you are experiencing anxiety.
8. Weight gain, especially in your midsection. Having heightened cortisol levels for extended periods of time can lead to weight gain and bloating in your stomach. High levels of cortisol can lead to blood sugar drops which leads to craving sweets. Even without “stress eating” or changing your eating habits, you may find that anxiety leads to weight gain. Other symptoms of anxiety like decreased sleep can also lead to weight gain.
Recognizing these lesser-known symptoms of anxiety can of course lead to getting treatment faster, but it is also very important because simply understanding your own behavior and having those close to you understand it can be hugely helpful.
Uncertainty is one of the most certain aspects of life, and yet it is one of the most intolerable emotional states. It is human nature to look for patterns and predictability, to figure out the future, and prepare. Therefore when we are faced with uncertainty, we try to get around it and figure it out ourselves. We immediately get going with the “what ifs,” the “what did that really means,” and wondering if this is it and the person you are dating is “the one.” We also to try to prepare and avoid getting hurt. However, it is really not possible to establish a healthy relationship by bypassing the uncertainty phase. It is important to take your time to figure out if this is “the one,” and discover together over time if you are compatible. Sure, you can try to get around this by jumping into things too intensely and too quickly, but that probably has not worked out so well for you in the past.
So how do you tolerate uncertainty?
1. Embrace it. Practice acceptance that this is a necessary and important phase of dating and your relationship. Enjoy the excitement and butterflies and try to frame it that way instead of seeing your emotional response to uncertainty as uneasiness and intolerable anxiety that must end! You will survive this.
2. Flip the script and use your uncertainty and wondering to figure out how you actually feel. It is easy to get so caught up in trying to figure out the other person’s experience of us that we lose out on the important opportunity to determine the answer for yourself to your own questions. “Are they interested?” can become “Am I interested?” Take your time to figure this out without getting sucked into the trap of just focusing on the other person.
3. Don’t play games. Sometimes people try to avoid the discomfort of uncertainty by exercising control over the situation and deliberately doing things to keep the other person wondering and on their toes. This is not going to do your relationship any good. And if you notice the person you are dating doing this, take a closer look at what is going on and if you want to participate in it.
4. Do NOT become beholden to technology. If you find yourself attached to your phone and constantly checking at it, as if you are willing a text to pop up, that is a warning sign. If you are tracking the other person on social media or looking up their history, just try to stop. The less you start with these things, the better off you will be.
5. Ask for reassurance in a measured way. It is natural to want to know where you stand with someone and how they feel about you. If you notice yourself constantly asking for reassurance, you are going to do your relationship in.
6. Look at the evidence. If you are prone to worrying about whether your partner is interested in you, try making a list of things they say and do that indicate that they are interested. Review the list especially when you might be having a hard time sitting with the anxiety of uncertainty.
7. Continue to tend to your relationship with yourself. You had a life before this person was part of it, and you need to maintain it now. Continue to see your friends, go to the gym, go to work, and do the things you enjoy.
But what happens if you are still lingering in the uncertainty phase after your first anniversary? Sure, there is a normal amount of uncertainty in life and there are no guarantees, so it is normal to not know for sure about some things. However, by your first anniversary, you should know whether or not you enjoy spending time with this person, if you have chemistry, how the other person communicates their feelings, how your partner feels about you, what your long-term plans are, and whether you have shared values. You absolutely should feel comfortable being yourself with this person. It also would be helpful to have a sense of and be on the same page about career goals, where you want to live, how you feel about living together, whether you want kids, and what your priorities are. You should also be certain that there are no deal breakers present in the relationship.
All healthy relationships involve compromise and sacrifice, and some people are more inclined to put their own needs aside in order to please others. Especially if you have a bent toward people-pleasing and being conscientious, it is important for you to know where to draw the line.
5 Things You Should Never Give Up in a Relationship
1. Your family and friends. If your partner is urging you to give up your relationships with your family and friends and trying to isolate you, this is a definite red flag.
2. Your identity. This seems like a no-brainer, but all too often, I see clients who have completely abandoned their identity and sense of self in the service of pleasing their partner and making their relationship work. Usually this is something that does not happen overnight, but once it does happen, it can be extremely damaging for people.
3. Your career. Let’s say your career is important to you but your partner is fed up with how demanding it is. Or, let’s say your partner gets a job elsewhere and expects you to up and leave. You may very well make an informed decision to move with them and get a different job, but that needs to come from you. If you are pressured to give up your career because your partner is threatened by it, wants you available to them at all times, or is repeatedly undermining it and your successes, this is a big problem.
4. Your well-being. Let’s say you regularly engage in self-care that involves exercise, therapy, time alone to decompress, or time with your friends to pursue hobbies. If your partner pushes you to give up these things, especially while knowing that they are important to your health and well-being, run far, far away.
5. Being “you.” If you do not feel comfortable being yourself, and 100% yourself, with your partner, whether this is by request or your own decision, this person is not “The One.” It is essential that you feel comfortable expressing all of your wants, needs, desires, and can be honest with your partner. If you cannot do these things because you don’t feel comfortable and are wanting to be the person you think your partner wants rather than yourself, this is a problem. Similarly, if your partner is subtly pushing you to be someone else by putting you down or telling you what you should like, this is also dangerous territory to step into.
The bottom line is that you should never have to give up or lose who you are, at your core, in order to make your relationship with someone work.
There are many reasons why the holidays might make some people feel sad or lonely. If you have experienced a recent loss like a break up, divorce, or death of a family member, friend, or pet, then you are at heightened risk for experiencing sadness and depression during the holidays. The holidays are designated family and “together times” so if you do not have anyone, this can easily become one of the most challenging times of the year for you. Financial strain and stress also might be a major contributing factor to anxiety and low mood during this time. Especially for individuals who derive the majority of their sense of self worth from work success, difficulties at work or with finances can greatly increase the risk of depression. In addition, many people have time off from work during the holidays and the lack of routine and losing the sense of competence and accomplishment that work might give you can also cause a dip in mood.
The key to combatting sadness and depression during the holiday season, is to plan ahead and do things that have worked for you historically. If you would like to use a new skill, practice it in advance as trying something out for the first time when you're already feeling down makes coping even more difficult.
12 Tips for combatting sadness during the holidays
1. Practice acceptance that you might feel sad or lonely during the holidays. The holidays can be an especially lonely time and can increase sadness and symptoms of depression. There is a societal expectation or pressure to be happy and revel in the holiday spirit. That expectation itself may make someone struggling with loneliness or depression feel even worse because they may get mad at themselves for not being able to “snap out of it.” This being said, it is very important to give yourself permission to feel sadness or loneliness. When people try to avoid emotions or tell themselves that it is not ok to feel a certain way, that very emotion inevitably intensifies, plus there is often added frustration that you cannot will yourself to feel differently. It is also helpful to have a level of acceptance of your emotions because then your emotions do not catch you off guard. Remind yourself that it is ok to feel different emotions, including sadness, and experiencing a range of emotions only makes you human not a (insert self-deprecating adjective here) person.
2. Up your self-care by going back to basics like sleep and diet. Take a look at your sleep and eating habits and make a concerted effort to go to sleep at the same time each night and have a consistent wake up time. If you are having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, practice good sleep hygiene and avoid things that are activating before bed such as checking your work email or watching the news, and instead do something that you find relaxing. When you get up for the day, even if you do not have anywhere to be, open the shades and turn on the lights, take a shower, and get dressed. Focus on having three balanced meals and two snacks and try not to go more than three hours without eating something as that will help you keep your blood sugar levels even.
3. Self-soothe using the five senses: get in your comfiest sweater or snuggle under a blanket, burn your favorite scented candle, eat or drink something soothing like hot cocoa or herbal tea, look at artwork or pretty landscapes online, listen to music that comforts you or is uplifting
4. Reach out to others. Plan ahead to access the supports that you have, Plan to spend time with friends or talk to them on the phone.
5. Limit your time on social media as it may make you feel even more down to compare yourself to others who look like they’re having the time of their life during the holidays
6. Exercise helps combat depression and sadness. You will release endorphins, feel a sense of accomplishment once you have completed your workout, and doing the opposite of what your sadness is pulling you to do (such as isolate yourself and lay on the couch all day) will help decrease the intensity of that emotion if not turn it around altogether. If you have a regular exercise routine, now is not the time to slack off or change it. If you have been trying to get back to the gym after a hiatus that was forced by work getting hectic or just not feeling motivated, set small goals for yourself like 5 minutes at a time, or just get yourself to the gym to start.
7. Contributing to others can not only give you a sense of accomplishment but it also might just make you feel a bit better. Look into local volunteer opportunities. While it can be very helpful to be with others and volunteer together, if that just feels like too much, volunteer virtually. Check out Operation Warm for some ideas: https://www.operationwarm.org/blog/25-volunteer-jobs-to-do-from-home/
8. If you notice yourself struggling with depression, early intervention is especially important. Consider beginning therapy. This can be challenging during the holidays as many therapists are on vacation and are experiencing their highest volume of calls from people who want to start treatment. Online therapy with a credentialed mental health professional might be a good option. Check with your health insurance to find out what telehealth company they are contracted with. You may have a better shot getting an appointment with one of the therapists through a telehealth company and you don't need to worry about travel time and other difficulties associated with scheduling to get to an appointment.
9. If you will be alone and you can afford to do so, plan a vacation in advance. Preferably go someplace warm and with plenty of sunlight where you can be active.
10. If you also tend to struggle with seasonal depression, consider a light therapy box for a mood boost. Keep in mind that the decreased hours of sunshine during the day give your mood an extra hit.
11. If this is your first holiday season after the loss of a loved one, be deliberate about taking time to honor that person in some way. All emotions naturally rise and fall on their own, and it is only by trying to avoid them or push them away that you will end up perpetuating the emotion.
12. Remind yourself that the holiday season is temporary.
The holidays can present a great opportunity to revisit family relationships that have deteriorated or gone away completely.
7 Tips for Repairing Family Relationships
1. Be prepared to forgive. You may be focusing on asking for forgiveness yourself, but make sure that you give some serious thought to how the relationship ended up deteriorating in the first place and make sure you are able to forgive this person. If you reach out and you are still holding onto old feelings of hurt and anger then this will almost inevitably end up coming out sideways with a snide remark or unconsciously looking for evidence that the person will just end up disappointing you again.
2. Do not underestimate your family members. Perhaps you have drifted from someone and feel guilty about avoiding them. The guiltier you feel and the more you avoid, the more awkward and anxious you will feel about reaching out. Give your family member a fair shot to surprise you by forgiving you or just skipping right to welcoming you with open arms. Sometimes stories get built up in our heads and become even more powerful than reality.
3. Expect that this relationship will require extra energy. You will likely need to reach out more than once and try to really extend yourself. Try to follow up regularly with phone calls and texts to check in. If it is worth it to you to repair this relationship then it is certainly worth prioritizing it and putting forth some extra effort.
4. Be ready to acknowledge happened. Depending on the situation, the other person’s feelings, and their readiness to talk, you should address the falling out. If you don’t address the elephant in the room there is a good chance it will eat away at both of you and create more awkwardness. If you are not ready to talk about it, respectfully ask that you table it for later, but it needs to eventually be acknowledged.
5. Come up with a list of benign conversation topics so that you can have some easy conversation and ways to connect. Think about this person’s interests and regular activities and ask about them.
6. Try to establish a new way of relating that involves expressing your feelings openly and letting the other person know that they are hurting your feelings or doing something that rubs you the wrong way. Gently request a topic change.
7. Have an awareness of your personal limits and boundaries. Make sure that it is truly in your best interest to try to repair the relationship. If this person has been abusive and repeatedly hurtful or if they are not at all open to the idea of reconnecting then it is probably in your best interest to hold off for now. Similarly, if you find yourself repeatedly reaching out and are just getting berated by this person then it is time to pull back. Go into trying to repair the relationship with a solid understanding of what your personal limits are and how you will know if the other person crosses them.
Negative thoughts can be the ultimate relationship killer. We know from research that there is a very tight feedback loop between a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors so having negative thoughts can send you down the rabbit hole. It is important to know your thought patterns that can lead to major relationship problems. For example, you may hold beliefs from early in life or a more recent past experience that no one can be trusted and will take advantage of you or cheat on you. You may believe you are unlovable or that you can change your partner if they love you enough. You also might notice yourself engaging in catastrophic thinking like believing everything is ruined after one argument or all or nothing thinking such as if things aren’t perfect then the whole relationship is a failure.
7 Tips for Stopping Negative Thoughts From Ruining Your Relationship.
1. Make a list of your typical thoughts that lead to fights or breakups. Go through these thoughts and write down evidence for/against each thought.
2. Come up with an alternative thought that is accurate and adaptive. For example, if you believe that the person you just started dating is no longer interested in you because they haven’t responded to your text for several hours, make a list of all the other things that they might be doing. Think about other times they took a while to respond. What is some evidence that they are still interested? The alternative thought here could be as simple as ‘just because I haven’t heard from ______ doesn’t mean they aren’t interested.’ The thought will have more effectiveness if it is more detailed. See my how to guide to cognitive restructuring here.
3. Understand how your thoughts lead you to do things that can be, quite plainly put, intolerable and destructive like going through your partner’s belongings, calling or texting repeatedly, constantly putting yourself down, or criticizing your partner over minor things. To follow the above example, understand that you want to text repeatedly because you want reassurance that they care. Ask yourself, though, will you really get that reassurance? What could be the consequences of calling or texting 25 times to “check in?”
4. When you notice yourself having the urge to do the aforementioned things, take a time out for yourself and practice some skills to help yourself like counting to ten and breathing, reviewing your more adaptive thoughts, and if you are really activated or angry, then try holding a frozen lemon which should help lower the intensity of your emotions.
5. Communication with your partner is particularly useful. Ask for clarification instead of jumping to conclusions. Be mindful of your tone and make sure you bring your own emotional intensity down before attempting a conversation.
6. Think about what makes you feel secure in your relationship and make a list of the relationship and your partner’s positive qualities.
7. Review old photographs from the beginning of your relationship. Think about what drew you to this person in the first place.
It can be anxiety provoking or upsetting to have your therapist go on vacation or on extended leave (i.e., maternity leave) during a time when you may feel you most need to be in therapy. Even if the break occurs during a time when you aren’t under a lot of stress or “needing” to be in therapy, it can be jarring to find out the person you have been counting on and seeing regularly is not going to be available.
Many of us have seen the movie "What About Bob?" which is a hyperbolic and comedic portrayal of a desperate patient who refuses to accept that his therapist is on vacation and ends up following him. Just because you feel sad or angry or anxious about your therapist being on vacation does not mean you are that stereotype. This is a completely normal reaction. It is important to discuss the upcoming leave or vacation with your therapist and express your feelings.
Your therapist should create space in your sessions to discuss any feelings of sadness, anger, or anxiety that you have about the upcoming change. If your therapist doesn’t bring it up and you notice yourself having feelings about it, make sure that you bring it up. It is normal to have a full range of feelings about your therapist being unavailable during a period of time but often times clients feel they cannot or do not have the right to express those feelings because they understand intellectually that their therapist deserves/may need the time off. You also might feel that your reaction is silly or excessive. It is completely normal. Your therapist should understand and anticipate that you may have conflicting feelings about wanting your therapist to have the time off needed while being upset that your therapist will not be there for you.
Make a concrete plan with your therapist. Think about what will be happening during the extended leave or vacation such as a holiday or other potential stressor and write down ideas for how to cope with that time. Recall all the skills you have learned in therapy and plan how you will use them to get through this time. Make a list of supports in your life who you can call for help, if you want to talk to anyone. It can also be helpful to journal during this time either on a daily basis or to keep the weekly therapy hour you had to journal about your thoughts and feelings. Have a concrete plan in place for how to use skills you have learned and protect the gains you have made in therapy during this time.
Find out if your therapist will have someone covering. If your therapist is going on extended leave and you will be seeing someone in their absence, it can be helpful to meet with that person prior to your therapist’s last session with you before the leave in order to make sure it is a good fit. If you will not be seeing the covering therapist for therapy, review with your therapist the specific circumstances under which it would be appropriate to call the covering provider. It is helpful to plan in advance for this because calling someone you don’t know when you are in distress is hard enough.
If you need to find your own therapist to see during a long break like a maternity leave, for example, both ZenCare and Psychology Today are great resources. Make sure that the therapist you find takes your insurance, if that is a necessity. You can also call your insurance provider to find out what local therapists are "in-network" or find out which telehealth company they work with if online therapy is something you would like to try or need to try due to travel or scheduling constraints.
Also, it is important to keep in mind that a break that your therapist takes can provide you with a break as well, and a natural time to consolidate the gains you have made in therapy. It is absolutely essential to recognize how the hard work YOU have put into therapy has helped and to feel a sense of accomplishment, independence, and self-assurance. If you and your therapist agree that a break could help, make a plan with your therapist and discuss reasons/signs you may need to go back to seeing a therapist during that time. I cannot stress enough the importance of working with your therapist and planning in advance to figure out what this break will look like.