The holiday season is a time that always makes me feel like there are 2 realities happening at the same time: we have the shiny holiday cover package; the commercials with family members that seem to always be smiling as they spend money, family planning and shopping, and sparkling decorations galore.
Then there's the reality bubbling right underneath the surface for many people. As a therapist, I get a window into this reality that affects so many people. Crisis visits for suicidal thoughts go up. Attendance to appointments go up. Depression and anxiety go up.
I'm not saying the holidays aren't actually a joyful time for many people, because I know they are. But for some families, it's their first time celebrating without having one of their loved ones present. Or maybe you're trying to maintain your sobriety from alcohol and drugs, and the holidays are a huge trigger for you to want to use. Or maybe you've done some work on being a healthier you, but your family hasn't done the work and they are still caught in the same unhealthy patterns that bring up old emotional wounds.
It can feel really isolating to have a hard time around this time of year, and see everything around you look polished and beautifully decorated. Sometimes the collective strength of the "celebration" vibe may make you want to stuff any "negative" emotions into a box and put it in the attic of your brain while you plaster a smile on and go to the next holiday gathering.
You don't have to do that. That exhausting thing where you pretend you're okay; it often makes things feel worse. The only thing you really have to do is honor you. Let's shift the mindset from meeting external demands, to meeting your internal needs. Give yourself permission to nourish you first and foremost.
Here are some ways you can celebrate yourself and your emotional health for this holiday season:
1. Practice checking in with your emotions. So much of our suffering builds because we don't actually acknowledge how we're feeling each day. Especially when the holiday season is a busy one, it's easy to cram our own emotions on the backburner and tell ourselves we'll get to it when things slow down. Spend some time alone with yourself. Maybe you take 5 minutes at the end of each day to just ask yourself how you're doing, and to write down the response. What comes up may not be pretty sometimes, but just the act of treating yourself as if your emotions matter is a healing practice. It's also a great practice to begin to notice that emotions change, and nothing lasts forever. By putting difficult things down on paper, it can also be a way of offering up your emotions; of seeing them and acknowledging them but realizing that you are not your sadness, your anger, or your grief. They are however a part of your experience that need acknowledgment.
2. Assess how involved you want to be in family gatherings. What is the current state of your emotional health? How much energy do you have to be present and interact with family? As we grow and develop, the hopes are that we evolve into a truer representation of ourself and not just what we have been programmed to be. SOMETIMES, family can be dysfunctional af and being around them can feel stifling to your evolved self. Be honest and kind with yourself when knowing if that's the case; maybe you don't fit in with dysfunction anymore and need to make contact with loved ones in small doses. It's okay!
3. Find your soul family. There's the family we're born into, and then if we're lucky, there's our tribe. It could be one person or more than one, but these are the people that "get you" and honor who you are. They acknowledge your strengths and make you feel good about who you are. If the family you're born into becomes overwhelming, or if grief and loss are very present during this time of year, seek out your soul family to refill your cup. Maybe you plan a good vibes exchange, where you share letters of appreciation with your tribe.
4. You don’t have to show up to everything. You can skip it this year if you need to. You are allowed to rest, even when it feels the rest of the world is a whirlwind of busy-ness and holiday planning. The quality of your presence at what you do attend will be so much higher if you’ve taken some much needed time to relax.
The most important thing to remember is that you get to choose how you spend this time, so pour energy into what fills you up, especially if this is a hard time of year for you. Also know, you are definitely not alone.
Here's to saying no to anything drains your energy, and saying yes to yourself!