Fall is the harbinger of bold colors, mild temperatures, football, and the beginning of the Big Three holidays—Thanksgiving; Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa; and, New Year’s Eve. These holidays evoke a range of emotions from giddiness to panic attacks to emotional collapse. The five-week holiday season kicks off in early November as we prepare for these emotionally charged days. How we approach them can impact our experience.
The holidays carry different meanings for each of us whether we welcome and embrace them, have neutral feelings about them, or face them with dread and trepidation. This time of the year may trigger painful recollections. Present-day circumstances can nudge years-old memories. Or, we may wrestle with situations of recent years. Wounds may be fresh and raw. Our life may be starkly different from what we planned for ourselves. Whatever this time means for you, honoring your feelings and life rhythms can ease the stress.
Despite our most fervent efforts to avoid emotional pain during the holidays, we may face harsh realities. The past three holiday seasons were difficult for me. 2015 was my first holiday season without my sister. 2016 was my first holiday season without my mother and my partner. 2017, I faced cancer. New pain on top of old memories can be overwhelming. Caring for ourselves becomes critical.
I assess my values and define what the holidays mean to me and how they fit into my life. I explore the emotions that surface and express them safely. I work toward a place of acceptance and contentment. I will never arrive at these states permanently as they are not destinations but instead are points in my journey. Haunting memories are not as painful as in previous years. As each holiday season unfolds, I know healing has taken place within me over the years. When a memory visits me but I can no longer recall the details, I know I have healed and possibly even forgiven someone.
Getting through the holidays can be a challenge, but these twenty-three strategies may help smooth the edges of anxiety, depression, and tension:
- Be kind and gentle with yourself. The tiniest acts of self-love and self-compassion can be the most powerful.
- Pamper yourself in whatever way works for you. Get a massage, manicure, or pedicure. Stay in your pajamas all day.
- Take time for a quiet celebration and reflection, with or without others.
- Spend time in religious or spiritual activities that speak to you. Pray or meditate.
- Review the closing year, look for the lessons, and marvel at the wisdom you have gained.
- Make gentle and empowering plans for the new year without locking into resolutions. What and who do you want in your life in the new year? Try to approach the new year with joyful anticipation.
- Call a trusted friend or family member.
- Write out feelings in a journal or diary.
- See a counselor, minister, rabbi, priest, or spiritual director. The Center has counselors who work with grief. To schedule an appointment, click here.
- Walk or exercise.
- Engage in activities that inspire awe and wonder in you. Gaze at a clear night sky. Watch a toddler at play.
- Practice yoga or stretching exercises. Or, try Tai Chi or Qi Gong.
- Listen to soothing or energizing music.
- Read uplifting, inspiring, comforting books.
- Find reasons to smile and laugh. Watch nurturing or funny movies.
- Let off steam, safely. Try Tae Kwon Do, kickboxing or screaming.
- Create something. Paint, color, or draw. Or sculpt, weave, or knit. Write an essay, blog post, or short story.
- Start new holiday traditions, rituals, and practices that nurture your spirit, with or without other people.
- Spend time with caring, supportive friends, especially sharing a meal, if possible.
- Honor the rhythms of your body. Eat, sleep, rest, and exercise as your body requires.
- Write a letter of gratitude, grief, anger, forgiveness, or apology regardless of whether you plan to send it.
- Address a holiday card to yourself, write a note inside the card that inspires and uplifts you, and mail it.
Other ideas may come to mind for you. Spread out a practice over several days or weeks. Or, try a different approach every day, or every few days. The crucial point is to be your own best friend.
As the 2018 holiday season approaches, I want to express my appreciation to Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center for the support and encouragement for writing these articles. The opportunity to serve you is an honor and a privilege.
The holidays hold the promise of beauty, wonder, grace, and hope. May you find peace, comfort, gratitude, and joy in the coming weeks and throughout 2019.
Billie Wade is a gregarious introvert whose primary interests are writing, lifelong learning, personal development, and how we all are affected by life’s vagaries. Issues facing black people, women, the LGBTQ community, and aging adults are of particular concern to her. She enjoys open-hearted dialogue with diverse people. The opinions expressed here are her own.
To read more of Billie’s blogs: www.dmpcc.org/Billie