Overcoming Valentine’s Day Dread

Felicia Levy, LCSW

Sometimes holidays are just really challenging. Valentine’s Day, for many, is one of those holidays. You can’t escape it: Stores are boasting red and pink hearts; advertisements are geared toward “buying something for your special loved one”; movies are focused on love and that special relationship that magically works out.  It’s everywhere!

Many people struggle with Valentine’s Day, not just those who are single. People who are predisposed to depression or who are going through other major stressors may feel additionally sad around the holiday. Someone might be in a relationship that isn’t going well and be faced with “happy relationship” reminders at every turn. Others may be in the midst of a break up or a relationship that has recently ended. Someone else might be in a happy relationship, yet sad thinking about a former love who has since passed away. Certainly there are those who are single who are also experiencing sadness. The point being….you are not alone!

Why is this particular holiday so hard? Valentine’s Day is associated with love and relationships. Many people struggle with finding love, feeling love, managing emotions, being in a healthy relationship, being single, etc. Whether love is innate or not, it is an emotion that many seek romantically, possibly because it makes us feel good, it makes us happy. You may have heard the phrase, love is a drug? When researchers examined the effect of love on the brain, they found that intense feelings of romantic love affect the brain in the same way drugs like cocaine or powerful pain relievers do. “The reason people are so attracted to cocaine is that it activates the area of the brain that makes you feel good.” Researcher Arthur Aron, PhD, professor at SUNY says “The same reward area is activated when people are experiencing the intense desire of romantic love.”

No matter if in a relationship or not, it’s easy to idealize what it’d be like to be in that “perfect” relationship, with romance, great communication, and of course….an abundance of love. A trap people fall into is comparing themselves to others – friends, relatives, celebrities and so on. When we do that, we lose sight of who we are, and create an unrealistic ideal. Movies and TV shows don’t help and without doubt romanticize the holiday, giving the false portrayal that everyone is in a flawless relationship, and that even when a relationship faces a challenge, it always works out happily ever after. Statistics show this just isn’t true. According to Forbes, an interesting report on the demographics of the United States finds that for the first time, since 2014, half of the American adult population are single!

Thankfully, there are many ways to help yourself feel better if you are struggling with the upcoming Valentine’s Day. The first real step is to make the decision that you want to feel better. Some people simply aren’t there, and are ok muddling a bit until the day passes. That’s ok too! If you want to be proactive.

Here are some things you can do on Valentine’s Day:

  • Thought reframing: Do you tend to think in terms of “all or nothing, always or never”?

Examples: I’ll never be in a happy relationship; nothing ever works out for me; Valentine’s Day is always awful.

  • These thoughts are not very helpful, and may have a tendency to be inaccurate. Ask yourself how you feel after saying one of those phrases. Chances are not so good. Try to force yourself to think of something that has worked out for you, times that you were happy in the past, what you can do to make Valentine’s day better (more tips to follow!).Another way to reframe your thoughts – write a list of the benefits you have in your current situation – single or not. Try your best to get creative. Another list idea-write down what you are grateful for in your life. When you focus on the positive and what you do have, your mood will naturally improve.
  • Create a Valentine’s Game Day Plan. Get clear on what you want to do on the day. Whether in a relationship or not, what can you do for yourself on Valentine’s Day that will make you feel good? Take care of yourself! It is estimated that 15 percent of U.S. women send themselves flowers on Valentine’s Day. If the day traditionally gets you down…try to get some mood boosting endorphins. Plan on getting some exercise, take that spin class you’ve wanted to check out, or go for a walk outside. It’s also a great day to volunteer. Giving to others is a great way to take your mind off of your own worries. See if you have some friends who might like to join you in any of these activities on this day.
  • Focus on your self-worth. When it comes down to it, you feel better when you are able to validate yourself and make yourself happy vs. relying on someone or something external to do the job for you. Take pride in who you are, and what your strengths are. You are more than just your relationship status on one day of the year. If you’re not sure, take some quality time to think about it. Focusing on self-development is a great commitment you can make to yourself that will help you feel better in life in general and especially when faced with the rough holidays such as Valentine’s Day!