For many people, the end of the year festivities are a time of joy and warmth, a time for nostalgia, and a time to celebrate with the loved ones in our lives.
But what time is it for others?
Those troubled by ugly memories of holidays past rather than ones filled with light and love.
Those who with the dreaded family get-togethers that you really can’t get out of but desperately want to.
And those who are alone for the holidays and don’t want to be.
How do we make this time not suck?
Here are some ideas:
1. Remember that this, too, shall pass.
Yes, I’ve used this phrase before. And I shall use it again and again and again.
Because no truer words have ever been spoken.
Even though The Holidays now start as soon as the last candy is nabbed from a neighbor on Halloween and last for about two full months, they’re going to pass.
Just like they do every year.
You’ll get through this year, too.
2. Don’t blow your dread out of proportion.
“I can’t stand the holidays!”
“Not another horrible dinner with my dad and his wife and her four bratty kids – I’ll never make it!”
“I’m the only one I know who doesn’t have somewhere to go and people to be with during the holidays.”
Your holidays aren’t fun, it’s true.
But do you make them suck even more by dwelling on your negative thoughts about them?
Try this instead: When you find yourself thinking your old thoughts that create dread in the very core of your being, just notice them and let them float away as though they are on a cloud in a breeze.
What usually happens is we go on and on and on in our minds about a thought, like this:
“Not another horrible dinner with my dad and his wife and her four bratty kids – I’ll never make it! All of that noise and shouting with those kids running at full tilt in the living room. And I never get any time with my dad since he has to do whatever Sheila says. …
You feel sad, you lose your concentration, nothing is interesting to you anymore, and – to top it all off – your thoughts become stuck in an endless loop of self-criticism.
There are many ways to address depression. Researchers interested in decreasing depression and increasing resilience have found that using a number of intentional activities creates positive emotions and helps reduce feelings of depression.
The first step, though, is to work toward letting go of the critical rumination going on in your head. Why? Because it is very difficult to even consider pursuing intentional activities with thoughts such as:
“It won’t help.”
“Why even bother?”
“I’ll just screw it up.”
These thoughts make your mood bleaker and keep you on the sofa rather than feeling up for trying a new activity or intervention.
So, what to do?
You’re stuck inside your head with the same thoughts going around and around and around:
“Why do I feel this way?”
“There must be something really wrong with me.”
“I don’t have the energy to deal with things which means I won’t be able to work which means I won’t be able to support me or my family.”
“This is awful.”
“What am I doing or thinking that is making me feel this way? If I could just figure it out . . .”
The problem is, while you’re thinking, thinking, thinking, you’re not doing. Effectively, you’re stuck in the paralysis of analysis.
“I get up to that start line and my heart is pounding so hard I think I’m going to have a heart attack,” Andrea tells me. “I can barely remember the course or what I’m supposed to do out there.”
Andrea, my partner, loves to do agility sports with her dog, Georgia. But she experiences competition anxiety like many people do. It tends to interfere with her ability to run the course smoothly and make split-second decisions on how to guide Georgia most efficiently to the finish line.
Similarly, some of my clients tell me that they don’t know how to handle their intense emotions of frustration, sadness, anger, or a whole host of other feelings.
Both Andrea and my clients spend a lot of time and energy developing ways to make the feelings go away. Andrea tries taking deep breaths. A client might try avoiding thinking about the frustrating situation she is experiencing.
These are not bad ideas and they certainly are not going to hurt anything. (I, of course, am especially fond of the deep breathing idea!)
However, the root of the problem lies in trying to get rid of the emotion altogether.
Don’t buy into the emotion.
They can be easy to miss, though.
Let me illustrate with this story:
The other day I was walking along in a small shopping center, headed for Starbucks. My mood was blue and I was feeling discouraged. I struggle with depression occasionally and I was concerned that it might be raising its dark head.
I glanced up as I walked and saw a teenage girl about to pass me. My blue-themed thinking went something like, “Teenagers. So involved in themselves and their phones…she’ll probably just look away or give me that look like I don’t exist.”