Sarah is not going home for the holidays. She plans to read, spend time with her dog, and even participate in a few yoga sessions.
The 30-year-old, who uses her first name to protect her family’s privacy, lives in Seattle, just 30 to 45 minutes from her loved ones. Despite the short commute, she enjoyed her own company over Thanksgiving.
“I have more peace being alone when I need it,” says Sarah, who roasted and watched a movie alongside her dog.
It has become apparent to her over the past few years that she does not share the same values with much of her extended family, describing certain moments at past gatherings as “emotional triggers” and “sad”. Much of the tension came from politics during the COVID-19 pandemic and election cycles. Even if she wants to focus only on warm weather, pushing herself to get home for the holidays isn’t worth it anymore.
“I always felt like I was doing it to tick a box rather than reliving childhood memories of what we thought vacations were like,” she says. “It’s so different when you’re an adult.”
Sarah hasn’t been with her mother’s side of the family for the holidays in years. At first, she was sad and worried about feeling alone. But by not forcing herself into an emotionally draining situation, she feels more in control.
“The biggest lesson learned from the pandemic is that you don’t have to settle down, and if people don’t give you the energy you deserve, and even if they’re family, you don’t have to settle down. no need to participate,” says Sarah. .
Coming home for the holidays is not feasible for everyone, whether due to financial hardship, to protect emotional well-being, or for persistent mental health issues.
“As a society, we have to recognize that some people don’t feel joy,” says Dr. Frank Ghinassi, CEO of Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care, who adds that holiday marketing isn’t helping people who are already struggling. “It highlights the chasm between what the world expects and what some people can give.”
A pre-pandemic report from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) found that 64% of people with mental illness say vacations make their condition worse. Last year, a survey found that people’s stress levels were five times higher during the holidays, largely due to fear of contracting COVID-19, but also research and supply. of gifts.
In a survey of more than 1,000 American adults, commissioned by BetterHelp in partnership with research company Material, 72% said they expected something to negatively impact their wellbeing this winter. primarily financial issues, with nearly half worried about their mental health this winter. holiday season. More than one in four respondents expect managing family dynamics to have a negative impact on their well-being this holiday season.
After leaving their childhood home, some people find additional communities, passions, and even a sense of individualism that more closely aligns with their values, and returning home can cause mental distress by questioning this newfound identity, says Ghinassi.
“When people individualize early and shape their adult life, they often leave behind family dynamics and elements that make them feel less effective. They reinvent themselves to feel empowered,” says Ghinassi.
Choosing to skip the family for the holidays may seem harsh, but it can actually be a form of self-preservation, Sherri Riley, founder of Exponential Living, a personal and professional leadership development company and author of Exponential life: stop spending 100% of your time on 10% of who you are, recount Fortune.
“They really say yes to themselves. They say no to travel. They say no to the hustle and bustle of going somewhere… They don’t say no to their family. They say no to the process,” she says. “And what they’re saying yes to is that I just need some time to myself.”
For Gotham Sharma, who lives in New York, forgoing the holiday season isn’t due to family distress, but a desire for some distraction-free time to put her head down and get some work done. The 31-year-old co-founder says a “holiday calendar” doesn’t exist in the startup world. Sharma has found he can do the most when he’s not overwhelmed with meetings that peak during the holiday season. He knows that being home with his family would end up distracting him.
“I’m kind of letting go of the illusion of trying to balance these things,” he says.
He fully expects criticism from those close to him, but believes that his family will eventually understand that his decision is due to his passion for business. Mostly because he aims to take trips to see his family, who are scattered across the country, at other times of the year that fit his schedule.
“That doesn’t mean I never want to see you again,” he said. “That means I can’t see you now.”
Family time is an essential part of his family, but he says maintaining those relationships and respecting each other takes different forms. That doesn’t necessarily mean showing up during the holiday months, he says, especially if he’ll be distracted and potentially irritated later.
And it’s not all or nothing for Sarah either. The only member of Sarah’s family she keeps in touch with is her father, whom she describes as her best friend and who is not associated with the other side of the family. She plans to only see her dad for Christmas and says the door isn’t locked with the rest of her family, but right now it’s not in her best interest to make the effort.
The internal battle over whether or not to make the return trip is not straightforward.
“Spending time with others, especially when someone is feeling ambivalent about it, can be a complicated mix of love and avoidance,” Ghinassi says.
He asks people to question their motivation: “Is the decision to return home and spend time with family based on the desire to be with them or on the guilt of being ‘the one who doesn’t? don’t go home”? Are you willing to sacrifice some of your peace of mind so you don’t feel guilty or [be] called selfish?”
While the term self-care might make your eyes roll, taking care of yourself means listening to your instincts about what you need, which can often allow you to come across as more authentic when spending time with others.
Taking care of ourselves doesn’t have to feel like forgoing holiday gatherings altogether. It can be as simple as when Riley spent some time alone in her room the morning of a family reunion because she felt exhausted from work and other life obligations. After just having a moment to compose herself and slow down, Riley felt less irritable and angry when she joined the group. It’s not them Where me, she explains, but rather them and me.
To her surprise, no one even noticed that she was joining the festivities later than usual, Riley says, realizing that her pleasant nature led her to assume that she would disappoint people by not being cheerful. and happy when the early risers arrive. She has since chosen to be more intentional about her time and encourages her clients to do the same.
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