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Hints for keeping the festive in the season


The song, sung by Andy Williams, says that Christmas is ‘the most wonderful time of the year.’ But not for everyone. It can be a time of grief, loneliness and as research says can produce something called positive toxicity.

Coined by Harvard University clinical psychologist Dr Jaime Zukerman, positive toxicity is the assumption, either by oneself or others, that despite a person’s emotional pain or difficult situation they should only have a positive mind-set. Contrary to that the message needs to be spread that it’s alright not to be okay.

Global medical group Aspire Health says the pandemic itself has rocked most peoples’ foundation of what is normal, or not. The past years have been awash with angst, fear, grief or loss. Often holiday times bring these feelings into focus whereby people are fixated with how life has been, how could it have been and who, or what, is missing.

Aspire Health has produced a series of thoughts on how to tackle some of the not so joyous aspects of the season: They suggest:

  • Do allow yourself not to feel okay. Remember that emotions, whether anger and sadness or happiness and joy, come and go.
  • Don’t pretend emotional pain doesn’t exist. Avoiding emotional discomfort can lead to great feelings of isolating, anxiety, and depression. Try and confront and process emotions in an effective and timely manner
  • Do comfort others using phrases that acknowledge someone’s feelings and let them know you’re there. Rather than tell them to “get over it” say “you’re allowed to feel this way and your feelings are valid”
  • Don’t assume that because you (or someone else) are not in a positive mood that you (or they) are wrong. This invalidates someone’s emotional state and triggers secondary emotions, such as embarrassment, guilt, or shame

One of the most hopeful things we can do is to choose connection, kindness, and understanding. The focus can be on giving — both to our family and friends, and to the community around us.

In most cultures nothing supports connection more than food and the shared rituals of mealtime. Harvard University’s Bari Walsh and Leah Shafer have developed a series of ‘table based’ activities to make the season one of good cheer. Often talking about family recipes can bring families and friends from different generations even closer.

They maintain that nothing supports connection more than food and the shared rituals of mealtime. And these rituals do more than make us happy and full: they bolster our long-term health, emotional well-being, and sense of belonging.

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Date Published: December 2022

To be reviewed: December 2025

Keep it distraction free

The most important table manners are the ones that help us connect with others around the table, writes Anne Fishel, the co-founder of the US-based Family Dinner Project. In the age of technology sometimes rules need to be put in place so that everyone at the table feels a sense of real connection and belonging. Her suggestions for IT compliance:

  • If technology is allowed at the table, use it to enhance conversation ("hey, what do you think of this cool picture?"), rather than as a distraction from what other people are saying.
  • Come up with rules for tech at the table, and then follow them, whether you decide to leave phones in a basket by the door, or allow them to be whipped out to fact check during conversation.

In New Zealand Aotearoa 40% of Māori octogenarians and 28 per cent of non-Māori 85-year-olds who participated in research by the University of Auckland said they were always, often or sometimes lonely.

Professor Ngaire Kerse, who led the study, said loneliness was often accentuated during the festive season "because everybody else seems to be celebrating".
When people had lost loved ones, which happened more frequently with age, their absence could be keenly felt at Christmas.

Again, being sensitive and aware of how all people feel, particularly older family members or friends, can help keep the merry in Christmas.

Finally, Australian site Nursenextdoor.com.au have identified the ‘pressure points’ that can crop up during the holiday season.