It’s that time of year again. Thanksgiving is just a couple of weeks away, followed closely by Hanukkah. Then Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Years round out the calendar. Tradition tells us this is a joyful period full of gratitude, family, hope, and ultimately, celebration.
But how do you get through this time of year when part of you doesn't feel like celebrating?
You may have family members or friends on the east coast who lost homes and basic essentials in superstorm Sandy. Some of us have lost (or are losing) loved ones; some are getting divorced; some are worried about illness or financial security.
And some of us are trying to cope with the sense that life hasn't turned out the way we thought it would. You may find yourself wishing you could skip right to January 2nd (and then feeling guilty about that)!
For me, the sadness of my son’s death makes it challenging to feel celebratory. I still miss him, and his absence is sometimes like a heavy weight across my shoulders. Last year I felt like an observer at holiday gatherings; sort of there in body but not a true participant.
This year I definitely notice healing in my readiness to be with family and friends, and in my ongoing pursuit of meaning. But the healing process still includes moments of weariness.
I know I’m not alone in having mixed feelings about holiday time. So I've been thinking a lot about strategies for coping and even thriving enroute to 2013.
What’s causing the pain and keeping you from pleasure?
Something has changed in an unwelcome way. Or something disturbing has happened and it feels like the rug has been pulled out from under you. You’re uncertain about the future and about your ability to influence it. You know you need to work on accepting this new reality, but holiday time adds another layer to the loss.
This extra layer includes expectations. We’re “supposed” to be happy and ready to party this time of year! TV commercials and sitcoms show us incredibly happy people enjoying their holidays; workplaces and homes are decorated and music reminds us to be of good cheer.
It makes sense to feel disconnected from joy during times of loss. I remember how bizarre it felt to have my sadness juxtaposed with the expectation of enjoyment and laughter. Depending on what’s going on in your life you might feel left out, alone, and unable to join in the revelry; like having an invisible disability that no one truly understands.
Banishing the Blahs
Try some of these approaches to make holiday time more comfortable:
1. Alternate focusing on your loss and thinking about moving forward.
This is part of the healing process. Pay equal and alternating attention to the loss itself and how you’re moving through it.
2. Decide what’s doable for you this year and stick to it.
Figure out how you can realistically participate, remembering there’s always next year. You don’t have to say yes to everything. Make an overall plan, communicate it, and follow it.
3. Identify a support person to attend functions with.
A spouse/partner, family member, or close friend beside you can help you relax. You can choose a different person for each event, or have the same companion throughout the season. Either way, an understanding confidante is always near.
4. Spend time with people you love and feel connected to.
Your family’s cozy Thanksgiving dinner might feel okay but the big office holiday party may not. Honor your feelings, knowing that this is the time to surround yourself with love.
5. Find a personal meaning for each holiday or event you attend.
Maybe it’s a spiritual meaning or perhaps it’s a connection to someone important. Choosing a special significance can boost your satisfaction.
6. Keep a gratitude list…include your own accomplishments and gifts.
There’s no doubt about it – expressing gratitude makes us feel better. Start or end your day noting at least one thing you’re grateful for.
7. Recognize when “faking it” is useful and when it’s not.
Look in the mirror and smile, even if you don’t feel happy. See if you can sustain the smile for 2 minutes. Feel better? You get to decide if acting sociable can help you through a holiday gathering.
8. Exercise regularly.
Move your body to stay energized. Find activities you like or that you can motivate yourself to do consistently. Research shows exercise also lifts mood.
9. Get plenty of rest.
Challenging circumstances can drain our energy. Try to establish a healthy sleep cycle and allow for down time in the weeks ahead. Replenish.
10. Help someone else.
One of the best ways to get out of your own misery is to serve others. This is the perfect time of year to make a positive difference in someone else’s life, so find an activity that fits your holiday plan.
11. Learn something new.
This jump-starts your thinking and your creativity. Take a class or ask a friend to teach you something, or research a project or idea. Just make sure it’s interesting and fun.
12. Watch alcohol intake…it’s a depressant.
Although alcohol does loosen inhibitions, it does not elevate mood. In fact, alcohol’s effects can be like taking a depressant, and who wants to do that?
Take some time to map out how you’d like to observe your holidays. Decide which of the tips above you’re going to implement and put them in order of importance.
Create a list of events and associated tasks (baking, shopping, etc.) remembering to keep it doable and meaningful.
Schedule all tasks on your calendar so that you’re not overwhelmed last minute.
Engage your confidante/companion in an honest discussion of why this time is challenging and how their supportive presence would feel to you. Choose a companion for each event you attend.
What Works for You?
I value your comments! Please post your thoughts and insights on how you navigate the holidays.
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