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  • Writer's pictureLynn Cukaj

Happy Holidays! Or are they?

Art Therapy for Children, Teenagers and Adults

“Happy Holidays!”

How do you truly feel when you say this to someone? Are you wishing someone a happy holiday or are you personally wishing for one?

Undeniably, when we say “happy holidays”, we are conveying that the holidays are a happy time. We also say this to others in hopes that they will also feel happiness during the season. But what happens if we do not believe our holidays will in fact be happy? Is it mentally healthy to go through the motions of the holiday season and believe we are happy while wishing others happiness when they may be going through a difficult time? Do we “fake it til we make it” through the holidays?

How many of us get anxious during the holidays? What gifts to buy, what to wear, what to bring, how to manage our weight, and how to deal with difficult family members. Some people are dealing with even bigger challenges, like the loss of a loved one, illness, divorce, loss of a job (forget WHAT gifts to buy, it’s more like, HOW can I buy gifts?), among other major life changes. This can often leave people feeling helpless and sad during this time of year. The expectation of the holidays are set high for everyone, and perhaps it’s a time to do what we can with what we have rather than try to uphold unrealistic expectations for ourselves. Although the holidays are not waiting for us to heal from trauma, at some point we will have to learn how to cope with our grief and sadness.

The good news is, there are ways that we can mitigate our stress throughout the season. As always, we can start our day with mindfulness, breathing exercises, and art therapy projects. Also, there are many opportunities in our community to help others that may have it worse than us. There are food drives, gift drives, and local shelters that would appreciate gently used blankets, clothing, and toys this holiday season. Being of service to others in our community can help us heal from grief or a major life change. When a person looks outward, satisfaction is gained which can in turn build up self-esteem, self-worth, and overall gratitude. This can then lead to that individual feeling more confident in their ability to integrate their pain and work towards healing. By looking at the broader context, it can provide a different perspective in that all humans experience pain and that suffering is a choice.

How can we learn to stay focused and choose our happiness? We can first accept the idea that all humans experience four existential truths: freedom, responsibility, meaning, and death. This acceptance helps us re-frame our negative experience not only during the holiday season, but also year-round. If we see how these truths play a role in our daily lives, we may be able to secure a happy holiday for ourselves. When we realize that we are facing a difficult situation, pause and ask ourselves the following questions:

  • Do I have the freedom to make a better choice right now?

  • Is it my responsibility to handle this situation?

  • How much meaning am I attaching to this situation, and does that benefit my mental health?

Sometimes when we place these existential truths in the context of our daily lives, we gain a different perspective which protects us from being overly dramatic, overly stressed, and overly negative about a situation. The combination of pausing and reflecting allows us to be more mindful of our choices. We can have the freedom to assess our responsibilities to find meaning in a situation without impacting our mental health and well-being.

Only if we create a happy holiday for ourselves will we be able to authentically inspire others to feel happiness during the holidays.

The STEP Activity to Strengthen Mental Agility

In order to reflect on this in a concrete way, I offer a suggestion which is inspired from cognitive behavior therapy. When we find ourselves in a challenging situation, it is beneficial to assess our thoughts and emotions that impacted our behavior or performance. A mindfulness activity would be to take note of a particular situation that was difficult and then re-frame it to learn how you could have dealt with it in a healthier way. By practicing this, we are preparing ourselves to be mentally stronger for future stressors, as they are inevitable.

S: describe the situation
T: what thoughts did you have?
E: what emotions were evoked and expressed?
P: what behaviors were present?

S: describe the situation
T: what thoughts can you have?
E: what emotions would you feel?
P: what behaviors would you like to present?

This STEP exercise is designed to be a reflective exercise and a way to practice changing our thoughts and emotions which directly impact our behaviors. By practicing this method as we approach the holiday season, you may find that saying “happy holidays!” will be a very authentic statement!


For more therapeutic activities and resources on how to incorporate Art Therapy into your life, read more from Lynn's Creative Expressions Blog.

Learn more about Art Therapy and Lynn Cukaj, Board Certified Art Therapist here:


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