Ever since I met my husband, I’ve become a Christmas nerd. I used to hate the holidays, because it felt like a time when everyone was just focused on buying and receiving as many gifts as possible. Meanwhile, in crowded parking lots and stores, people went on being surly and inconsiderate. But spending time with someone who has had a history of very merry memories, and subsequently ample cheer for future holidays, has proved to be contagious.
Still, the holidays are charged with lots of memories, expectations, and therefore, lots of potentially complicated emotions. It’s not all cheer all the time. Even the most beloved holiday movies are marked with a tinge of sadness. It makes sense when we think about how closely these celebrations are connected with some notoriously triggering subjects such as money, relationships, and religion. When we fail to consider these nuanced emotional contexts, the challenging emotions can come as an unwelcomed surprise, even becoming a source of guilt. It’s hard to understand negative emotions when we believe we are supposed to be celebrating a happy occasion. If you experience mixed or negative feelings during this time, keep these following strategies in mind.
Accept and allow for your feelings. The best thing we can do is to give ourselves permission to feel what we are feeling, no matter how uncomfortable it is. Letting go of the idea that we should feel anything different, we can get through hard emotions without the damage caused by guilt or shame. Feelings come and go; we must have faith that the hard moments will inevitably pass over time.
Don’t take it personal. It’s easy to ruminate about negative feelings. While it’s good to notice the relationship between our behavior (e.g., what we eat, how we deal with stress, who we spend time with) and well-being; sometimes negative feelings occur without warning and seemingly without explanation. It’s important to remember that experiencing challenging emotions does not mean that there is something “wrong” with us. We are all subject to occasional feelings of sadness or despair, even (and sometimes especially) during the holidays. It’s best not to overthink it and avoid identifying with the negative emotions.
Check your expectations. We tend to build up hype around the holidays. It’s normal to look forward to celebrations and gatherings that have been the source of joy in the past. But sometimes we create expectations that are impossible to fulfill. It’s not fair to compare our present experiences with the past or some imagined future. Instead, we must treat every moment as its own unique experience and remain open to whatever happens as it unfolds.
Think sustainability. Whether it pertains to spending money, eating and drinking excessively, or neglecting work and personal tasks, bad holiday behaviors can make it extra hard to find balance again. We can enjoy the celebrations as they happen, but consider how our decisions may have long term consequences. Doing small things to maintain a sense of balance and self-control in the midst of a hectic season will make it easier to adjust back to the rhythm of daily life.
Let your heart be light– ‘Tis the season for kindness, so let’s maintain an awareness of the heart! When we feel anxious or frustrated, we can lean into that awareness in a way that offers more breathing room.
Try it! Next time you feel a wave of negative emotions, place your hands on your heart and focus on stabilizing and deepening your breath. Instead of judgment, offer yourself the kind of presence you would offer a dear friend who is experiencing something hard.
The poem below perfectly captures this how we can meet our challenging emotions with patience and trust.
Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,
what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.
In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.
And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.
Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29
- Rainer Maria Rilke, Translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrow