For some people, the holidays are not the most wonderful time of the year: between family and peer expectations, financial woes, scheduling frenzies, reminders of loss and the increased likelihood of seasonal affective disorder popping up; it can feel very rough.
I started this blog partially because I had a feeling I could slip into a winter depression.
This is my first holiday season sober as an adult and I am feeling a lot of the things I tried to numb out in the past, including the grief that has lingered around for the 14 years since the death of my father (who, by the way, loved Christmas and all the traditions surrounding it).
What I feel is the worst about the holidays that even if you don’t celebrate them or don’t feel excited about celebrations, you can still absorb the craziness of others around you.
There’s this feeling of the world shutting down, and at the same time, everywhere you go there are so. many. crowds. Not to mention, the same Christmas music played over and over everywhere you go.
For this reason, the holidays can feel problematic for highly sensitive people, those who struggle with mental health issues and/or introverts everywhere.
For me, this is the time of year where I can feel the most creative, but it’s also the time of year where putting my creative work out there is a task amidst all the craziness.
Collaborating with others for projects is just not an option, as they are also caught up in a booked up and frenzied schedule.
When the holidays are finally over and the buildup finally washes over to reality: it is easy to fall into a slump of malaise and general apathy.
This is where I feel music can come into the picture to turn things around. Music has always been my go-to for inspiration. I love that music has been there for me in the best and worst of times.
With that, I wanted to share my top 10 songs that have been getting me through the most craziest time of year.
Tightrope Walker by Ayla Nereo
I first discovered this song at an Amba Movement Women’s Circle. Every time I hear it, I feel inspired to move. It takes me to a place of immersing myself into a beautiful vision for my life, stripped from the day-to-day grind consciousness.
I watched the video for the first time recently and realized it perfectly encapsulates the creative process for me: the parallel experience of driving out to the wilderness and creating art.
If anyone ever wanted to know what my “leisure” time looks like, this is basically it. Though I feel I’d choose a different type of vehicle if I were to go off-roading.
Shedding Skins by Fia
With the seasons changing, slowly we all change into different versions of ourselves.
This is especially true when recovering from anything in life: your “new” self emerges from the ashes of your former self burned to the ground.
With sobriety, I feel like I’ve been letting go of things, people and situations that do not serve me or my purpose.
This part really hits home for me:
‘Cause moment we stop running from the demons in our heads and instead we choose to love them / When saying yes to life of shadow and light oh, our suffering is done and we come alive
I Am Light by India.Arie
In the darkness of the winter days, it can feel harder to see your own light. Luckily, we have India.Arie to tell us what’s up.
We are fed so many messages about ourselves on a daily basis. Over time, we internalize these messages so deeply that it can cause us to be the harshest on ourselves than anyone else.
It can feel so ridiculously hard to sort out the trash of what we consume mentally on a daily basis to get down to the core soul of our being. Most of the time we do not even realize we are being hard on ourselves because it becomes so natural to feel inferior.
So what it takes is an adjustment, a “leaning in” to our own voices and power inside to realize we are light.
Gracias a La Vida by Violeta Parra
I read somewhere that comparison is the thief of joy and jealousy is the thief of gratitude.
In these times of social media, it is easy compare ourselves to others and feel we are “less than” because see ourselves as “having” less than. This is especially true if you struggle with mental health issues around the holidays.
Chilean folk singer Violeta Parra’s most popular song Gracias a La Vida is a testament to the things in life to be thankful for.
My favorite part, translated from Spanish to English:
Sadly, Parra lost her struggle with depression in 1967. Her music and legacy lives on as an artist who inspired a cultural movement of major political power and significance in Latin America.
Hurricanes by Dido
I nearly fell out of my chair when I found out Dido was making a comeback. My early 2000s tween self yelled for joy, while my current self searched for a heating pad for my aching back from the sudden movement.
In any case, I have always felt very much connected by her music then and now. She always knows how to express a strong yet calm determination with a hint of sadness.
The sound of her voice is so soothing and takes me back to a time when things were…well, not the way they are now. At the same time, I feel hopeful when listening to her lyrics; like a renewing a beloved book at the local library, I feel I get to relive this era again, this time with less acne and awkwardness (..maybe.)
Let me not turn away / From happiness or pain / Just not to run away / In my heart and in my head / Let me face / Hurricanes
So Afraid by Janelle Monae
Janelle Monae is a true gem and one of the greatest talents of our times. I remember seeing her live in 2012 and she, quite literally, had the audience in a hypnotic trance.
With her latest album Dirty Computer, I feel like I am seeing an artist evolving right before my eyes. She also is a fierce advocate for mental health services access for all.
This song is a vulnerable expression of fear: fear of living life out loud and fear of loving.
In times of transition, like the changing of seasons, fear overtakes us and hinders our ability to fully live our authentic selves. At the same time, fear is very healthy – it shows us our boundaries and allows us to see what we are made of when we finally make a leap of faith.
Nobody by Mitski
I just discovered Mitski and couldn’t help but adore this quirky tune. The video is artistically brilliant – you can feel the sense of isolation as you watch her sip on the sands of time with herself, eating by herself and singing into a hairbrush in her room.
The holidays can be feel lonely for those who have experienced loss or grief, or those who happen to be single around this time. On Instagram, actress Mayim Bialik revealed her struggle with being newly single during the holidays and how she was coping with it.
Just a reminder it is OK to not be OK and you will get through this – whatever it may be.
Barbarian by Mona Hayd
I discovered Syrian American poet-turned-rapper Mona Haydar a while back when she released “Dog” – a tongue-in-cheek response to disrespectful messages from men online.
I deeply admire her flow, style and fearlessness- her art has garnered both praise and criticism; the latter from the hodgepodge of misogynists, racists and plain ol’ haters.
Even so, she continues with her art and remains outspoken on a myriad of topics, including the mental health of Muslim women being largely ignored.
This song in particular is a celebration of self love and a poignant rejection of the Western notions of beauty and perfection: If your Western ways of destructive imperialism are considered civilized, then we’re happy to be beautiful barbarians.
Here is an excerpt of her writing from the video page:
“Western standards of beauty currently dominate our world because we still live in the imperial model which continues to colonize and enslave. We resist white supremacy, ‘western’ superiority and colonized ways of thinking and being by LOVING ourselves, generously, beautifully and joyfully in spite of any active or subliminal efforts to make us feel unworthy of love and life.”
You’ve Got to Run by Buffy Sainte Marie & Tanya Tagaq
Buffy Sainte-Marie, Canadian singer-songwriter and member of the Cree First Nation, has been a fixture in the indigenous social activism community for decades.
During her career, she also had to fight control for her music and experienced bullying and censorship by record executives.
Sainte-Marie has long been an advocate for decolonization as a way to break the cycles of societal ills such as bullying and addiction, as she put out the call last year to “Stay calm and decolonize.”
I love the empowering message of this song, as it emphasizes resistance to social conditioning as a way to be in touch with your Highest Self:
Down in a hole / You feel like two different people in your soul / Feel like a loser until you see that as you bend / You learn to be your own best friend / And you learn how and you learn when to take a chance on the spirit of the wind
Hands Dirty by Delta Rae
Delta Rae sang about Charleston with references to Eric Garner and #BlackLivesMatter, when no other country artists, or mainstream white pop artists for that matter, would even approach the topic in their music.
So it was no surprise to me when they came through again right before this years’ election with a homage to #MeToo and support in fight for representation of women in Congress.
When the song was released, one of the lead singers Brittany Holljes revealed she had been sexually assaulted – adding a heaviness to the already emotionally charged and electrifying tune.
This part feels like a catharsis for all survivors and a reminder keep fighting the good fight, as we are all in this together:
I have seen the other side of the mountain
Where every queen will be afforded her throne
And I will stand beside my sisters
And all persistent resistors
They’ll say I knew it would come true
And I’ll say ‘darling, me too.’
Are there certain songs helping you get through the winter blues? Let me know in the comments!