Column: Dodging The Valentine’s Day Blues

February 11, 2024 | 0 Comments

Dr. Jacqueline Olds Bermuda February 2024

[Column written by Dr. Jacqueline Olds]

Whether you think it is a Hallmark holiday or not, Valentine’s Day has a way of stirring up a lot of strong emotions in people – both positive and negative. For weeks now, islanders have been bombarded with advertising and staycation offers aimed at couples celebrating the occasion. Whether you’re not in a relationship or in one that has all the usual flaws, it can feel like a minefield of emotions.

Here are some important things to remember to put it all in perspective and to help you avoid getting the Valentine’s Day blues:

Why is Valentine’s Day so emotionally charged?

Valentine’s Day feels emotionally charged for most of us because it implies that we ought to have a loving relationship with someone who is also wild about us. If that relationship is lacking or in bad shape, we start to feel that we are the odd man [or woman] out, and everyone else has a partner about whom they feel marvellous. Because of our expectations of the holiday, we worry that whatever situation we are in is not quite adequate. Or that we are an imposter pretending to have a loving relationship when we’re inadequate compared to the ideal. Soon we are depressed and shamed.

Because of our own elevated expectations for the holiday and its implications, we can easily feel embarrassed: ‘Is our singleness or our less- than-perfect relationship going to pass muster when it is tested in the St. Valentine Day exam?’ Or will it be exposed as not good enough when we try too hard to pretend that we are perfectly well adjusted?

Lonely hearts

Perceived loneliness [even when a person has plenty of contact with other people] can be as dangerous for health as actual social isolation. The rule of thumb nowadays is that loneliness can be as dangerous to overall health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. And feeling lonely can increase stress hormones on a regular basis, which we know has a detrimental effect on health if it goes on for longer than two months.

Heart Dr. Jacqueline Olds Column Bermuda February 2024

It’s too bad that we haven’t got a clever catch phrase like Friendsgiving [for celebrating Thanksgiving with friends instead of family] for celebrating Valentine’s Day with good friends. In fact, getting together with close friends can mitigate the harmful effects of Valentine’s Day alone even if some of the celebrating is talking about what a downer it is not to have a partner.

How to lessen Valentine’s Day blues

I suggest making a plan for going out or staying in, with good company, partner or not. Good company is what makes life’s pitfalls tolerable if not even positive because talking frankly [and being our true selves] is what dissolves our anxieties and stresses even when the world continues to be the highly stressful place it is.

It’s important to understand that a holiday like this makes everyone’s insecurities come out in spades. Often even if someone has a loving partner, the pressure to be very loving and wonderful causes major missteps in which one might find all loving kindness to be jammed because of the self-consciousness engendered by not living up to one’s ideal.

Also, all the talk about too much commercialisation of this holiday is partly because everyone is feeling self-conscious, and each person would like to blame something for their perceived inadequacy. So, join the club! Understand that with a partner or without, Valentine’s Day is an invitation to misery!

- Dr. Jacqueline Olds, Psychiatrist at Mass General Brigham

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