It's early December in New York City, the Halloween decorations are back in their boxes, hibernating until next year, leaving space for the new window guests: Christmas trees, Menorahs and snowmen. As I enter my neighborhood's coffee shop to order my usual latte, I am greeted by Paul McCartney's music. I can't help but cringe.
Don't get me wrong, I love his music. But this year, for some reason, hearing him sing "simply having a wonderful Christmas time", on the radios of every other store almost feels like he is bragging.
Why is that? Because I can't help but think of all the people struggling during this time of the year. I wanted to share with you some tips and tricks to cope with the wide range of feelings that can emerge during this season.
1- Allow room in your mind and heart for ambivalent feelings
The cyclical nature of the holiday season can lead to us looking into the past and remembering previous holidays, this exercise in remembering can be both joyful and painful. It can make us long for family members or friends that are no longer with us. You may find within yourself a lot of sadness for previous losses, while also feeling excitement for reconnecting with family members or friends you may not have seen in a while. You may feel guilty for having this mix of emotions, but it is helpful to create space for all these feelings and understand how normal they are.
2- Remember that we not only grieve relationships, but also plans and ideals
Perhaps the version of the Holidays you had imagined is pretty far from your actual situation. Perhaps you find yourself unable to visit your family due to COVID, perhaps yearly traditions that made you happy are not within reach this year. Recognizing that it is normal to grieve the version of the holidays you wanted will allow you to be more present during these holidays, and gives you space to come up with new plans and ideas to experience the holidays you want and can have.
3- Activate your senses
Remember that stuffed animal you had when you were 3, that one that made you safe wherever you went? As adults we can also have our own versions of safety objects or sensations. Try to find smells, tastes, textures and sensations that feel like "home". Surrounding yourself with soothing sensations will help you regulate the mix of emotions that can occur at this time of the year. Scented candles, hot baths, weighted blankets, fluffy clothing, comforting music can be all part of a self-soothing practice, one that is helpful all year round.
4- Let your to-do list take a nap
This time of the year can be particularly busy for many jobs: End-of-year reports, wrapping things up before the end of the fiscal year, etc. You may feel the need to be catching up with work 24/7, and may feel tempted to do some work during your Holidays time off in order to not feel behind when the new year rings. Thinking of your to-do list may make it difficult to remain present and/or feel that relaxing and unwinding is okay. Try reframing your time off from "lazy time" to "battery recharging time". Devoting the time you deserve to take a break from work and relax is not the enemy of your productivity, in fact, it will help you be more productive once your batteries recharge.
5- Recruit your internal friendly voices to deal with family conflict
Conflict is part of human relationships, but for some people, holidays can be a time where family conflicts are heightened. People whose identity aspects are dissimilar to their families (different religion, sexual orientation, political views, etc.) are more vulnerable to conflict. There is an abundance of online material on how to set boundaries with loved ones, ways to say no, or to remove yourself from emotionally taxing situations. In addition to relying on these resources, it is important to take an inventory of your inner resources: What are some inner beliefs about yourself that make you feel loved and grounded? What are the voices of the people around you that you can internalize and make them yours? If you are struggling with low self-esteem in a particular moment, think of narratives that contradict this belief. What would your friends say? What would your therapist say? Carry those voices inside of yourself and make them yours.
About the author: Maria Laguna, LCSW is a Certified Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist based in New York. She specializes in working with teens and adults around depression, anxiety and issues related to immigration and acculturation. You can follow her work here
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