New Year's: the parties, the people, the cocktails and the countdown. Many relish the opportunity for one last hurrah, a chance to kick back with friends and watch the ball drop. Others dread it ... or don't see what all the fuss is about. Love it or hate it, New Year's Eve provokes a strong reaction, but what is it about the holiday that's so polarizing?
"New Year's carries a lot of pressure -- letting go, starting anew -- and for some people, any transition, especially the transition of a new year, feels psychologically challenging," says clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula.
The new year signals a clean slate, a chance to start fresh and with that comes a bit of soul-searching. "New Year's Eve provokes many different reactions in people. Whether they be good or bad, it boils down to one simple yet dated concept surrounding the holiday -- the New Year's resolution, which can bring up intense feelings of anxiety, joy or fear." says psychiatrist Dr. Soroya Bacchus.
"We find ourselves asking very deep and psychologically rattling questions: Did I do everything I planned this year? Did I live up to my potential? What did I miss out on? Am I happy with my existence? At the same time you are forced to ask yourself what the next year will bring. It can be a harsh reality to face," Bacchus explains.
"These emotions can spark intense anxiety or depression at any time for anyone, but when you have to face the past and the future all at once it can be too much to handle," Bacchus says.
Those who have had a bad year or are dissatisfied with their life likely have a bit of animosity for the holiday hoopla, Bacchus theorizes, while those who've hit their stride and found fulfillment probably gravitate to the crowds and the big countdown.
"People may attribute their unhappiness to the holiday, the parties or the buzz surrounding the day, but actually, they are unsatisfied with their own lives and New Year's Eve makes them face it," Bacchus says. "Conversely, for people that are generally happy, they enjoy the holiday. They see the new year as an opportunity to improve upon what has already been successfully accomplished. It is something to look forward to, not dread, so they celebrate."
Add in that the stress of the parties, the people and the drinking, and it's easy to see why some detest the holiday.
"In some ways, New Year's is forced revelry, and if no invitation comes up it leaves folks bereft. That's a hell of a way to start the new year," Durvasula says.
Unlike Christmas or Thanksgiving, which center around family rituals like opening presents and big meals, New Year's Eve, with the parties and the kiss at midnight, is a time for friends and couples, which leaves more solitary types out in the cold.
"People tend to view holidays and special celebrations though the lens of their family experiences and their present relationship status and social network," explains Toni Coleman, licensed psychotherapist and relationship coach. "Those who dread and avoid this day are often unattached or suffering from a recent break-up -- or lead a more solitary lifestyle."
If you're single, short on friends or just dread the holiday, then ignore the parties, pub crawls and Times Square countdown, and focus on something more your style. Instead of bemoaning the wild shenanigans, start a new tradition, one that you do look forward to each year.
"Instead of paying for overpriced dinners, forced fun, idiots in hats or standing in the cold, New Year's can be a time for action," Durvasula says. "One woman I know has people come to her house to make vision boards. This past year, I went to a Buddhist shrine and ran a bell that symbolized letting go of the old."
Indulge in an overnight spa experience, tour the area art and history museums or just kick back and catch up on your Netflix queue -- anything that takes your mind off the notion that everyone else is having fun while you sit at home alone.
"For those wanting to block it out entirely, tackle a project like cleaning out a closet, organizing a kitchen or putting photos into albums," Coleman says. "Do something you've been putting off, would love to get done and that would give you a task to sink your teeth into. A nice dinner or a treat afterwards for a job well done could be the night cap."
Use the quiet time away from the crowds to find the positive in the previous year, and think of the evening's project as a teaser of what's to come. After all, completing an outstanding item on your running to-do list is one heck of a way to greet the new year.
"With some mindfulness and vision for what you want the next year of your life to look like it can be about something other than watching the ball drop," Durvasula says.