With the buildup to Christmas over, all that remains are the days until the New Year makes its entrance. This time can be equally stressful. During the final leg of the holiday season, many people self-medicate their anxieties with alcohol, food, or drugs. The idea of taking stock of the previous twelve months can send people into psychological overdrive.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Dr. John R. Sharp, a psychiatrist on the faculty at Harvard Medical School, has delved into how the overlap between seasonal, cultural, and personal factors can impact us emotionally. He presents these instructive insights in his new book The Emotional Calendar.
The period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s fits into what Sharp described as a staple of the American “cultural calendar.” When I spoke with him by telephone specifically about this stretch, he addressed how such a holiday “hot spot” can be the catalyst for “emotional disruption.” These hot spots often overlap with an individual’s personal “emotional calendar,” which is comprised of birthdays, anniversaries, deaths, and remembrances of high and low points. For adults, he said, memories—both positive and negative— become triggers, something that causes feelings from the past to emerge. In tandem with the external hoopla of this “celebratory” period, our moods are affected.
Sharp suggested that people should expect things to be different during the holidays. Grown-ups have experienced losses and disappointments, and therefore have a repository of associative memories to reflect upon.