Coping with the holiday season isn’t always easy at the best of times. But if you’ve had a hard year – a time of upheaval or illness or loss – it can be a real challenge.
In Part 1 of this post, we looked at some ideas which people felt helped them get through the darker undercurrents of the festive season. Here are some more of their tips.
Maybe they’ll spark some ideas that could support you at this time…
Let the tears come if they want
Sometimes the tension can build for weeks around this time of year, especially if it marks an important anniversary or memory for you. If you sense the tension building, sometimes people have found it helpful to ‘meet’ with the sadness regularly, to release it.
So what might it be like, in the weeks leading up to the celebrations, to regularly take some time to simply feel your sorrow, or your anger, or to cry your tears?
Maybe making an appointment with your sorrow like this can ease the pressure, and maybe even help you breathe easier on the big day.
Check-in with yourself
Throughout the festivities, some people found it useful to regularly check-in with themselves, and simply listen to the cues their body was giving them. Just to notice what is, both physically and emotionally.
So what do you notice if you take a second to do that right now?
Perhaps your shoulders are tense. Perhaps your stomach feels tight. Maybe your breathing is a little shallow, or you notice a sense of anxiety. Just see what it’s like to notice these things and to simply acknowledge them.
For sometimes simply allowing your feelings to be as they are, rather than trying to push them aside or judging them harshly, can actually help them to shift in some way. (Gestalt therapy calls this the ‘paradoxical theory of change’).
Get some exercise
When you feel emotions, your body feels them with you.
If you’re stressed, all sorts of chemicals cascade throughout your system, often triggering the fight/flight response. This can mean that your body is in a state of high alert, even though no physical danger may be present. It can be really helpful to ‘burn off’ those stress chemicals and help bring your body back to a more peaceful state, so your mind and spirit can relax a bit more, too.
Regular, moderate exercise has been shown to dramatically help in the treatment of moderate depression*. (A walk in the fresh air can literally help clear your head).
So think about which kinds of exercise feel good to you and when you could fit them into your day, especially at this time of year. Even ten minutes can make a difference.
Take a year off
If it’s been a big year for you, if you’ve gone through a lot of loss or change, and the whole thing just seems too much to face somehow, consider whether you could just take a break from some of the obligations this year. A sabbatical of sorts.
For instance, some people find they just can’t stomach writing Christmas cards the first year after their partner has died (and repeatedly having to sign their name without their loved one’s) – so they just didn’t do it. And the world kept turning…
Where could you use a break this year? Is there anything that can just wait until next time?
Talk it over
Whether it’s with a friend or a therapist, if you’re hurting, sometimes simply talking about the pain can help. There’s something really powerful about putting difficult emotions into words, and describing them aloud – it can literally help you define the issues, instead of feeling as though they define you.
. . .
So whatever this time of year holds for you – joy, sorrow, family or solitude – may it go well for you and your loved ones.
And maybe some of these ideas, shared by people who found their own way of coping, can help you unwrap some of the season’s more difficult aspects, and find your own way through it, too…
* Black Dog Institute 2009, Exercise the Mood: Exercise as a treatment for depression, Black Dog Institute, Randwick.
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.