As the end of the year rolls around, it can seem like the carols are fairly chasing you around town, many of them insisting that this is ‘the season to be jolly’.

But it is not always so.

For whatever you might celebrate at this time of year, there are also some deeper seasonal undercurrents which may draw you down into a darker, more difficult space. Sorrow or pain may also be part of your personal end-of-year traditions. And amid all the gift-giving, these are the things that are rarely unwrapped…

There are so many reasons why this time of year might be challenging for you. Maybe this is the first year since a loved-one died. Maybe your closest relationship ended recently, or is in a painful place, and you’re feeling suddenly alone. Maybe your family ties are fractured, and it just feels too raw to be together. Perhaps a painful event happened around this time of year (and every year you feel you’re re-living its echoes). Maybe you or someone you love is facing a serious illness.

Or maybe you just plan on ‘doing the right thing’ and ‘keeping the peace’ by meeting others’ expectations and celebrating with particular people, when you’d secretly prefer to be anywhere but …

Whatever difficulties this time of year might hold for you, there are ways you can help lighten the load. And in the spirit of narrative and feminist therapies – which suggest that our own stories all have important wisdoms to share – here are some ideas which clients have previously shared, which they found useful. (They might work for you, too).

Create your own tradition:

In the face of so many set rituals and traditions, it can be easy to forget that you’re allowed to invent your own, too. Something to support you at this time.

So what might you like to create a tradition around? Which values do you want to acknowledge in your life or in your family? What feels like it needs honouring this year?

Maybe you could light a candle for someone you’re missing. Or set aside some time and write some thoughts down on paper. Or even just reflect for a few silent moments. Whatever you choose to do, sometimes creating a simple ritual that is meaningful for you can help you get through the rest of the season.

By honouring some of the more complicated stuff, you can give yourself a chance to release some emotional pressure before it has a chance to build too much. Then, any other celebrations which might follow (which often insist we ‘be happy’) might sit more comfortably.

Take some time-out:

It seems so simple, yet sometimes just taking some time out was the thing that helped people get through it all.

If you’re celebrating the season with others, sometimes memories or difficult relationship dynamics or family histories can surface without warning. So if things start feeling overwhelming, just see if you can find a quiet space and give yourself a moment of peace. Just to relax for even a minute.

Even just knowing that this is an option can, itself, help ease the emotional pressure.

Take a piece of ‘home’ with you:

Sometimes it can be hard to find that kind of quiet place of refuge in the midst of things. Maybe the physical space you’re in doesn’t really allow for privacy, or maybe it seems ‘rude’ to leave people’s company to just take some time for yourself.

Instead, it may be easier to seek that quiet space within

For just such occasions, some people found it helpful to have a ‘souvenir’ on hand – just something small which you can tuck into your pocket, to act as a physical reminder of a peaceful place, or of your life outside this event.

Maybe it’s a shell from your favourite beach, a special piece of jewelery or a trinket from your home. Anything that speaks of safety and sanctuary to you. Then, whenever you feel the need, you can bring your focus back to your ‘souvenir’ and tap into the safety and serenity it represents for you.

Plan your escape:

Some people felt it helped to have a back-up plan or a reason to leave a festive gathering early.

This reminds me of that saying that advises to ‘plan for the best, and prepare for the worst’. It’s not as pessimistic as it sounds at first. For if you hope for everything to go well on the day, it just might – and there’ll still be a back-up plan if things get too difficult to handle.

So what might your back-up plan be? Perhaps you could make an appointment to catch-up with a friend after the main festivities of the day. (Or maybe you just want to make a date with yourself and a good book or a cup of tea). Just think about giving yourself a valid reason to leave the celebrations early if you want to.

So there’s a few ideas people have shared about how they survived the season. In Part 2 of this post, we’ll look at a few more.
And, as always, please feel free to share your tips, too, to add to these stories and wisdoms we all have within…

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Photo: Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a writer, blogger and Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also co-facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She is the editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.