My colleague Michelle Farris, LMFT wrote this new blog post about coping with difficult feelings such as anger and sadness. These are especially difficult feelings to have during the holidays when we’re expected to be happy. I hope you’ll benefit from Michelle’s practical tips and ideas.
How to Cope with Difficult Feelings During the Holidays
By Michelle Farris, LMFT
The holidays can be challenging when you’re not in a good place emotionally. It seems like everyone is having fun but you. Especially around the holidays, it’s hard to feel a part of the festivities when you’re hurting.
For example, if you’re struggling with grief or depression, these feelings can make the holidays a lonely time. You may want to isolate yourself because you don’t want to be a “Debbie Downer” at parties.
The following are some quick tips for handling difficult feelings so you can restore the joy of the season.
#1 Stop Pretending Everything is Fine
If you’re struggling right now, you may be tempted to hide your feelings. But when you do, you’re actually disregarding your own experiences. You can’t feel joy when you can’t be authentic. Whether you’re happy, sad or resentful, finding healthy ways to honor yourself and where you’re at emotionally is the kindest way to manage the holidays.
Pretending “you’re fine” doesn’t work. When you can’t be honest, it’s hard to be present. Your energy is spent trying to put on a happy face. If you’re a people-pleaser, denying these painful feelings might avoid conflict, but you end up feeling invisible. Putting yourself last creates resentment because you’re sending the message that your needs don’t count.
You assume that talking about difficult feelings will bring the party down but here is an alternative perspective. What if by sharing your pain, you open the door to greater understanding and support.
#2 Sharing Your Feelings Builds Connections
The holidays can trigger painful memories that are hard to shake. By stuffing the pain, it’s harder to connect. Letting yourself be honest makes you feel less alone – and could help someone else in the process.
When you risk being vulnerable, it’s an invitation to connect on a deeper level. You realize that you’re not the only one hurting. Sharing your pain encourages others to do the same. True friendship means being yourself, especially when you’re in need.
However, it’s always a good idea to be discerning about whom to confide in because not everyone will be receptive. Some people aren’t safe emotionally and that’s important to distinguish. Pick someone who is supportive and non-judgmental. If you’re not sure, share a less vulnerable part of the story and see how they respond before divulging into my personal information.
Holidays provide an opportunity to reconnect and being honest about what you’re going through can create a bridge of compassion and mutual support. Authenticity creates a deep and lasting emotional intimacy that makes the stress of life more manageable.
#3 Don’t Minimize How You Feel
Many people don’t understand the importance of embracing all their feelings, not just the easy ones. For instance, because anger is intense, many people choose to ignore it. And when you’re grieving, it may feel too painful to share – especially if you’re afraid others will judge you for not getting over it sooner.
But denying these emotions makes them grow. Instead of questioning whether your feelings are valid, trust that there is a reason you’re reacting. Painful emotions like anger and resentment are a signal that something needs to change.
Here are some questions to identify difficult feelings:
- Are you hurt about something that happened years ago but can’t let it go?
- Do you anticipate criticism or negativity from someone in particular?
- Is there a specific want, need, or boundary that you’re afraid to ask for?
- Are you grieving a loss that needs more support?
- Are you comparing yourself to others instead of accepting yourself?
#4 Don’t Let Anger Ruin the Fun
Notice when something bothers you and let those feelings surface. Anger and resentment aren’t easy to acknowledge but stuffing them often leaks out as sarcasm and passive-aggressive comments that hurt.
Passive-aggressive or indirect anger makes it difficult to sustain healthy connections because you’re pretending not to be upset. That creates an atmosphere of avoidance. You aren’t resolving anything and those feelings come out eventually – and not in a good way.
To manage feelings of anger and resentment, you need to identify the physical and emotional signs before they become problematic. Denied feelings come back with a vengeance. The earlier you catch these feelings, the easier it is to manage them in the moment. Ignoring anger or irritation contributes to outbursts later.
Here are a few early signs of anger to watch out for:
- Rapid heart-rate and sweating
- Muscle tension or feeling anxious
- Negative thinking or assuming the worst
- Using profanity, blame, and criticism
- Feeling increasingly stressed or irritable
- Not speaking up in order to keep the peace
Once you’ve identified how you feel, the next step is to honor them! Talking things out with someone you trust is ideal but sometimes you may prefer to keep these feelings private.
An Exercise for Handling Difficult Feelings
Journal writing is a great tool for expressing thoughts you’d rather not share publicly. Writing helps to express more intense feelings without hurting anyone else. Consider this activity like a “brain dump” – a way to vent what’s bothering you without censoring it.
You may be tempted to re-read it later but don’t take the writing too seriously. In the heat of the moment, thoughts can get pretty ugly. That’s why this type of writing needs to be private.
Next, write a letter to the person you are struggling with. Blast them if you need to because you will never send it. This letter is for your eyes only — to gain clarity on what action, if any, you should take.
Third, find your part in the situation. This is the most challenging part because you might think, “I haven’t done anything,” but keep an open mind.
Consider something you could have said or done before, during or in reaction to what happened. It could be something subtle like a grimace or omitting the truth when it could have avoided a misunderstanding.
#5 The Gift of Being Accountable
Looking at your own behavior is where the gold is! By acknowledging your behavior in a situation, your perspective changes because seeing your own behavior helps you feel like less of a victim. As a result, your resentment will likely decrease because you can recognize your part in it.
You will begin to feel some empathy and compassion towards the other person. This can start the healing even when the other person can’t admit fault. Examining your reaction helps to shift the story. Otherwise, it never changes and you stay stuck.
Keeping your feelings to yourself is not a healthy option. Even if you choose not to confront the person directly, writing helps you understand what went wrong and to improve relationships in the future.
#6 Find Healthy Outlets for your Feelings
Having several outlets for handling difficult emotions is important. Whether it’s hitting the gym or reading a good book, find ways to practice self-care.
Introverts often need quiet time away from people. Reading a good book or spending time alone in nature can be replenishing. Extroverts need connection and activity. Knowing what comforts you goes a long way toward being able to cope.
Healthy outlets for handling difficult feelings:
- Vigorous exercise
- Quiet time or mediation
- Connecting socially
- Joining a support group
- Starting a hobby or fulfilling a dream
- Volunteering for a worthy cause
- Talking things out with a trusted friend
- Seeking professional help if needed
Enjoying the season doesn’t mean you should deny your feelings for the sake of others. Pretending to be something you’re not, distances you and creates separation. And the longer feelings get denied, the harder it is to let them go and move forward.
Instead, decide how you’re going to take care of yourself ahead of time. Feeling connected to yourself and to others depends on your ability to honor your own experience – no matter what you’re going through. That is the hallmark of self-care and you need that for healthy relationships. By honoring what you need, you are inviting others to be authentic too which can make the holidays a time for real connection and support.
Michelle Farris is a marriage and family therapist who specializes in codependency and anger management. She believes in “walking her talk” and shows others how to make small but significant changes in their relationships. She writes a weekly blog and offers online courses on relationships, anger and codependency. If you have a loved one struggling with addiction, be sure to sign-up for her course Surviving the Holidays When Your Loved One Is Addicted.