If you asked someone who was born in the early 60s about what festivals or days like Valentine’s Day used to be like back then, they would probably talk about how families would come together, or how couples would step out to a restaurant for an ice-cream and take a romantic walk by the beach (if such a thing was not frowned upon).
Compare that to our generation, living in these competitive, visually charged, and technologically armed times. We are bombarded with ways to make everything better. There’s always something more alluring and something that we might be missing if we don’t search adequately. We are conditioned to apply this filter to everything we do. One can only imagine how our mental health fares during festivals and occasions then, where everything has to be absolutely be sugar, spice and everything nice.
The ‘Festival Blues’ are a real thing
Festivals and days like Valentine’s Day are associated with emotions of happiness and celebratory feelings. Feeling any other emotion during this time can therefore create a sense of inner conflict. What most people experience during this period is what is popularly called the Holiday Blues — the feeling of overpowering melancholy in a seemingly positive, cheerful environment. According to a 2014 study done by National Alliance on Mental Health, 64% of people feel a negative impact on their mental health during occasions and festive days.
This can be triggered due to a variety of reasons and the outcome more often than not is someone feeling inadequate. Why? They tend to feel like they “should” be happy when in fact they could be feeling anything from normal to unhappy. That they should be ‘doing something better to feel better’ is the kind of advice that only harms instead of attempting to heal.
Cultural pressures often drive popular behaviour during holidays and occasions, and non-conformity leads to conflicting emotions. In addition, the constant reminders streaming in through social media and advertisements have led us to paint a picture of people dressed to kill, having the times of their lives on such days. The visual sensory overload gets normalised to an extent that anything lesser will pale and fail in comparison. If you’re not going on a fancy date with your partner and gifting something equally precious, you’re not doing enough. If your festive prep doesn’t look as pretty as it should’ve, you’re perhaps not celebrating the right way.
Very often, social media can paint a picture of an idealised relationship or family, while the truth is often not as loudly talked about — the unique dynamics of various relationships and families is not always share-worthy. This constant oscillation between emotions and the expectation you set on yourself to look and do something that’s ‘out there’ during such days takes a toll on your mental health, without you even realising it.
Acknowledging how you feel during days like Valentine’s Day is an important part of experiencing the emotional process and may allow you to be more compassionate with yourself and help you actively cope with some of the feelings that come up. When you can begin to practice accepting your feelings, you can keep that inner critic at bay that tells you how you should be feeling.
The next ideal step is to normalize doing what you think is appropriate according to your circumstances and capacity. If you’re a working couple that may not have the time to go for a Valentine’s Day date, remind yourselves that it’s not that much of a big deal. The idea of the day is to express your affection for each other, and you can be the boss of choosing when that day is and the manner in which you express yourself in the context of a relationship. If doing nothing is your idea of a date and is your happiest time spent together, take pride in it and own it.
If you’re someone who stays with roommates and not with your family, such days can be overwhelming. So, start your own familial traditions in the city that you now live in with your roommates and all your friends. Do things that you would’ve done with your family in your new home. Creating this tradition can help you shift your focus and be more engaged in the present moment — an experience that can feel truly rewarding.
The notion that festivals belong only to couples and families is one of the biggest reasons why single folks feel the blues during these days. The feeling of ‘something’s missing’ constantly looms large, you feel overwhelmed, and sometimes even with families and friends around, you are detached.
However, if you’re single, you get to focus on you. It’s an advantage in disguise. When you begin to consider your needs as important as someone else’s, you will begin to correct behaviour that is detrimental to your mental and physical health. Apply this phenomenon to you being single, and you won’t see it as something that’s negative. You will begin to listen to your needs and start pampering yourself. Go out to the salon, or that dreamy patisserie. Maybe indulge in some retail therapy or a spa. Do what celebrates you!
Or you could make the day about what it REALLY is. As clichéd as it may sound, focus on why the day is celebrated rather than the how. A visit to an animal shelter or spending time with the senior citizen couple living by themselves next door can be just as enriching a display of love as any. Remembering what these occasions really represent can combat feelings of loneliness and actually help uplift your mood. And if that doesn’t work, you can always try showing yourself some compassion, taking care of your mind and practising gratitude to get yourself into a positive headspace.
We hope that no matter who you are, you’re able to take on such days, and treat them for what it’s worth — because you are bigger than the day, and much more!
Credits — Dr Divya Kannan