At certain times of year, perhaps Christmas for some, perhaps other high days and holidays – at those times, the social pressure to be busy can become enormous. Not only do we have the work of winding down our routine lives, but the additional work of moving into holiday mode.
Why should these times become such a burden for some?
WINDING DOWN YOUR USUAL LIFE
In a technological age, everything is, in theory, organised for maximum efficiency. Offices run as smoothly as they can, with daily and weekly routines. Optimally efficient systems are notoriously bad at handling interruption. They like everything to stay the same. Holidays are an interruption, a time when all efficient systems groan and grimace.
MOVING INTO HOLIDAY MODE
Your body works on similar principles. It thrives on routine, with which it works efficiently. Holidays make a request for a different style and pace. This can put enormous strain on both mind and body. Socially, too, when doing our routines, we tend to settle in to a maximally comfortable balance of relationships. Holidays put us into contact with a different set of relationships, and therefore can be extremely disruptive to our peace of mind.
SOCIALLY PRESSURISED RITUAL
Humans are particularly sensitive to social environment and implied rules. Arguably, we have become a dominant species partly because we all seek to adapt to each other. One of the driving forces behind this cooperation is actually fear. It is the mechanism by which a child learns to do what its carers expect, and behave in certain prescribed ways.
If one does not ‘behave’ (notice the intransitive, which implies that we should all understand what ‘behaving’ is), then one is subjected to forms of social punishment such as exclusion, loss of reputation, and name-calling. We even have myths attached to non-participation: the myth of Ebenezer Scrooge; the myth of the Grinch; these have a social function of emphasising the consequences of non-cooperation.
THE SECRECY OF PRESSURE
Added to all this, there is a social pressure not to disclose one’s own distress. Because everyone is trying to adapt to the event at the same time, it is often considered unhelpful to share one’s own anxiety. Official holidays are often prescribed seasons of goodwill, and the focus, so it goes, has to be the goodwill, not the emotional upset it may cause. An uncomfortable situation can arise between those promoting goodwill, and those with secret distress, in which the former believe they are spreading happiness, but the latter feel forced into silent sadness, for fear of spoiling the atmosphere.
So it’s worth remembering that, for some vulnerable people, holiday periods are times when they have their routines disrupted, are pushed into unwelcome social situations, and fear being labelled a killjoy.
WHAT WE CAN DO
In order to relieve ourselves and each other of any unhappiness, there are a few things we might try to do.
Let those who choose to, keep doing their usual thing. It may be that this is what keeps them going. Forcing them out of their routine might cause undue distress.
Let those who choose to, separate themselves from the ‘fun’. It may be that what you consider ‘fun’, they find distressing. Forcing them to join in unwelcome social activity might increase their unhappiness. Why would you want to do that?
Try not to name-call. In other situations it is called bullying, when you label people as different, and attach their identity to an unwelcome myth. So think about it before you call them Scrooge or the Grinch.
These ideas are only a focused version of what happens all the time. All the time, people are interrupted, socially insulted, and called names. In countries with limited human rights, it is very obvious. In countries that enjoy more freedom, this process is harder to discern, but is there nonetheless.
Maybe try to live and let live. If you want to have your holidays a certain way, then do that. But maybe try not to impose more suffering than necessary in the achieving of your goal.
Christmas, for instance, can be a time, for some, where the loss of those who have died is magnified. For a while, the bereaved may need to do their own thing, so that the wounds of grief are not larger than need be. Why would we wish to make things worse? We can still have social occasions, but flex them a little, to allow for individuals to have their own special ways. It’s kinder.
And a last note. Of course holidays can be wonderful for many people. They are a common celebration, a social recognition that life is bigger than us all. Let nothing I say take away from that.
Holiday times are supposed to be special times. But they can also be a burden to the vulnerable, because they add logistical problems, they require different sets of relationships, and they create a social pressure to conform. And because of that social pressure, the vulnerable find it harder to share their distress.
To help, we can let people, where it helps them, continue their routine and sit apart from the ‘fun’. We can avoid name-calling, and accept the difference without judgement.
Live and let live. If you give space, freedom and healing can happen. If you mock and demand, then you may be causing extra distress.