Empathy and the Holidays

by Annette Pinder

The holiday season is when we look forward to the first beautiful snowfall, the scent of pine, freshly baked cookies, twinkling lights, and holiday movies. But experts at McClean Hospital in Massachusetts also say it is when many of us feel emotionally and physically stressed, as we hope for holiday celebrations that will meet our expectations.

According to the American Psychological Association, 38% of people experience heightened emotional stress during the holiday season, which leads to physical illness, depression, and anxiety. Many feel overwhelmed by the financial pressure of purchasing gifts, or apprehension about upcoming family gatherings. Still, others may be dealing with the recent loss of a loved one or the prospect of spending the holiday alone.

Sadly, many people are facing incomprehensible challenges this holiday season. Each time I turn on the news, I am acutely aware of the fact that we are living in unprecedented times and that thousands of people lack the food, shelter, and medicine they need to survive. Looking at Israel, Palestine, and the Ukraine, I find that I have more questions than answers, and wonder what I alone can do to make a difference.

I think a clue lies in a recent quote I read by Audrey Hepburn, “Nothing is more important than empathy for another human being’s suffering. Nothing. Not a career, not wealth, not intelligence, certainly not status. We have to feel for one another if we’re going to survive with dignity.”

More than the need to find that perfect gift or dinner, we need empathy for one another. And, as we all pray for world peace, I wish you a joyful and healthy holiday season.