Life

Don’t buy into unrealistic hype

January 2nd, 2023 11:50 AM

Don’t buy into unrealistic expectations about how you ‘should’ be feeling on one day of the year. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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AT this time of year, you might come across articles with titles like ‘Ten tips to beat loneliness on New Year’s Eve’ or how it can be ‘hard to admit’ that New Year’s Eve isn’t your favourite holiday.

Well, let me ‘admit’ New Year’s Eve isn’t my favourite holiday. In fact, I know few, if any, people who love it.

As for ‘tips to beat loneliness’ on New Year’s Eve, I’ll give just one – don’t take the whole new year business too seriously.

The problem with talking about trying to ‘beat’ loneliness on New Year’s Eve is it’s unintentionally communicating the message that it’s somehow terrible to be lonely on New Year’s Eve – more so than being lonely at any other time of the year. It brings to mind those cliched soap opera scenes, where the camera shows us cheery people singing Auld Lang Syne in a packed pub and then cuts to a character who is going through a tough time, alone and unhappy as others sing in the new year. 

The juxtaposition of these images may be intended to induce feelings of compassion in us, but they also communicate another message, which is essentially: ‘Everyone is happy except for this poor fellow. How terrible’.

Of course, everyone is not joyously happy at this time of year – far from it (more of which anon). Nevertheless, many people do feel bad about themselves if they are down at this time of year. Feelings of unhappiness can be compounded by the tyranny of the ‘shoulds’ – I should be happy, but I’m not; I should have done XYZ over the last year, but I didn’t; I shouldn’t be feeling this way; and so on.

International research shows suicides rise on New Year’s Day. Various factors drive this, but it’s fair to say the cultural pressure to be happy at this time of year doesn’t help. The images we see on social media and on TV screens of New Year’s Eve fireworks and celebrations – if you’re going through a difficult time, such images may further dampen your mood, leaving you feeling isolated and inferior.

Then there is the fact the new year is seen as a time to take stock and reflect. This may be difficult if 2022 has been a stressful or disappointing year for you. 

Indeed, it may be difficult even if 2022 has been a middling, unexceptional year for you. That’s because it’s easy to focus on the things you didn’t do or on the things that went wrong. When we zero in and focus on the negatives, we often forget about the positives, about all the little things that went right.

Keep it real

It’s important, then, to not buy into all the new year hype. The reality is the vast majority of people – 83%, according to one UK survey – end up feeling disappointed with their New Year’s Eve. 

The same survey found a sixth of people considered New Year’s Eve to be the ‘most depressing day of the year’.

A separate US survey found 68% were left financially strained by the holiday season; 66% experienced feelings of loneliness; 63% said there was too much pressure; 57% said there were unrealistic expectations; 55% found themselves remembering happier times in the past and contrasting this with the present.

To repeat: don’t buy into the new year’s hype.

One final point. Some might say, isn’t it good to celebrate the dawning of a new year? Isn’t it refreshing to think we can look ahead and start anew – to ‘begin again’, to quote the words of the late Brendan Kennelly?

Absolutely, but ask yourself this: why not feel this way about every new day? Why not see every day as a chance to begin again? There is nothing magical about January 1st; every day offers the same promise and potential.

Don’t buy into unrealistic expectations about how you ‘should’ be feeling on one particular day of the year. Don’t grade your life by how you may be feeling at this time of year.

 Instead, remember that ultimately, January 1st is no more significant than March 21st or June 19th or September 4th or any other day on the calendar.

Linda Hamilton is a Kinsale-based cognitive behavioural therapist. If you would like to get in touch with her,  call 086-3300807. For more information, go to www.kinsalecbt.com.

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