The holiday season can be wonderful and devastating—sometimes all in one day, sometimes in a single moment.
You could be watching a hilarious Christmas movie, howling with laughter, and aching for your loved one. You could be crying because you’re grateful for your family’s support and because you’ve had a very difficult year. You could be excited for your Hanukkah parties and upset that some friends are already crossing your boundaries.
We are complex beings, after all. And the holidays can bring up a bounty of emotions—conflicting, difficult emotions.
So what can you do? How do you care for yourself when painful emotions arise? When it seems like the entire world is celebrating?
Acknowledge them. Name these emotions. Sadness. Anger. Hurt. Fear. Loneliness.
Don’t dismiss them. Don’t keep telling yourself, I’m supposed to be happy. I’m supposed to be happy. I’m supposed to be happy.
Write about these emotions. Even journaling for a few minutes can help your heart. Write about the sensations you’re experiencing. The tension between your temples. The ache in your neck. The soreness in your muscles. The all-over numbness.
Write about the painful memories that keep popping up. Write about the upset thoughts banging around your brain.
In other words, whatever is happening inside your mind and body, jot it down. Release it all, no matter how ugly it sounds or how ugly it feels. (You can always rip the pages out of your notebook, and trash them.)
And then do something supportive that soothes you. Take a hot shower or bath. Drink hot chocolate. Read from your favorite book. Write a poem (doesn’t matter if it’s awful). Paint. Listen to calming music.
Burn a delicious candle. Curl up on the couch with a soft blanket. Practice progressive muscle relaxation. Stretch your body, or try a gentle yoga class. Close your eyes, and take several deep breaths.
And, if it’s hard to extend yourself this kindness, try seeing yourself as two parts: The childlike part that is experiencing the difficult emotions, and the empathic parent who says, It’s OK to feel this way. I am here. You are safe—even and especially as you feel this sadness, anxiety, anger.
In other words, when inconvenient, frustrating emotions arise, welcome them. Open up your notebook. Process your feelings. Tune into your body and your thoughts. And nourish your inner child. Protect it. And treat yourself well.
Remember that you aren’t a robot. Remember that pretending emotions don’t exist rarely works. Remember that you can feel the full range of your feelings, even during a month that’s meant for merriment and celebration.
Remember that you can do what works best for you. The key is to first figure out what that actually is. And that starts with listening to yourself, and listening to the various emotions that are requesting your attention.