Honoring the Holiday Struggle

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I suspect there are two kinds of Christmas* People. Those who thrive on the manic aspects of the holidays – music, shopping, decorating, baking and parties; and those who are more focused on inner experiences, the contemplatives like me that find the frenetic activity not only physically exhausting, but mentally and emotionally so, too. This isn’t a form of judgement or a rant on materialism in December, just an observation. It’s a reflection I’m calling “from the couch.”
Woman in SnowDepending on if you have spouses or children, the ages of your children or parents and more, how you celebrate the holidays (and feel about the holidays) can morph. That is normal and natural but can be quite challenging.

Several of my clients are struggling more than usual this month. They are (understandably) anticipating troublesome interactions with family, experiencing grief and loss, depression or anxiety, emptiness or loneliness.

One North American survey reported that 45% of respondents dreaded the festive season. Reasons include:
o Excessive commercialization of Christmas
o Excessive self-reflection and rumination about the inadequacies of life in comparison with other people who seem to have more and do more.
o Pressure (both commercial and self-induced) to spend a lot of money on gifts and incur increasing debt.
o Expectations for social gatherings with family, friends and acquaintances that they’d rather not spend time with
o Feeling very lonely at Christmas, because they have suffered the loss of loved ones or other losses, especially if the loss occurred at this time of year.
o Comparing your “insides” to someone else’s “outsides.”

So I’m writing this today for those of you who might be struggling just a bit to remind you that You Are Not Alone.

If you are just not feeling it this year, explore one or both of these strategies:

1. Allow yourself to fully feel the whole range of conflicting emotions. This may be crying, hibernating briefly or sharing your feelings with a trusted friend. Because fighting, numbing or shutting down from how you feel rarely works and can actually make things worse.

2. Take a Breath, then try one of these tools.

Behavioral – DO Something. It doesn’t really matter what. Do it Intentionally and Purposefully. Engage in life, in any small way that you can. Even though you don’t feel like it. For 10 minutes. Then you may feel like doing more. Rather than the question, “What would make me feel better?” which is quite tempting, consider what you can do for another person, engage in verbal or written gratitude, be in nature. These are useful and healthy distractions that get us out of ourselves and re-set our brains a bit.

Mindful Presence and Self-Compassion – it’s tricky if you haven’t engaged in some mindfulness practices already, but still quite doable. This involves Noticing and Awareness and more breathing. Where in your body do you feel your feelings? Without judgment or self-criticism, without fear. Engaging in self-compassion with kind and generous thoughts to yourself as if you were a friend, or a child, or anyone who was suffering.

You’ve got this.

*I celebrate Christmas, and use the term generically to be inclusive of any winter holiday tradition you may personally celebrate.

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