Daily. I'm going to provide the tools. It's your task to grab them up and act on them.
First, who gets the Holiday Blues? Typically, if there have been past losses, unresolved grief, a recent break-up, anticipating the loss of a loved one, finding yourself alone and isolated for any reason, or experiencing a longing for "how it was compared to how it is," you're at higher risk for feeling blue at this time of the year. It's all going to depend on how well you take care of yourself.
It's always going to come down to self-care and the psychology of self-care, when we are talking about Anxious Folk. At this time of the year, though, Self-Care is going to be the saving grace for a lot of folks. How do you know when you need it? When you're feeling Blue and low energy. If you've felt Blue in the past, be proactive about self-care now.
The Holiday Blues can be most debilitating when you're grieving. And it doesn't have to be a recent loss. If your Blues are related to past losses, even the loss of a treasured pet companion, take the time to complete your grieving. Choose to intentionally include your loved one in your daily observances of the holidays. Allow yourself to feel your feelings. And your tears. Journaling can be a big help in this regard. Creating rituals, such as lighting a special candle, setting up a special altar or photo, designing a "Letting Go" ritual, playing special music, sharing your feelings with others, or making donations in the name of your loved one can be healing. It's important to notice your energy and modify your activities to match. This isn't the time to try and be all things to all people. Take care of yourself first. And, perhaps most importantly, give yourself permission to enjoy the holidays.
Choose a mindset. You can choose not to be a Helpless Victim of your situation and you can do so by taking action on your own behalf. Lots of people feel a little Blue this time of the year, so know you're not alone. There's nothing wrong. In fact, until we are taking better care of ourselves, Blue is the way we feel when we are isolated or alone in the midst of all the merry making. You can improve your mood and your experience by anticipating what you need and acting to make it happen.
Keep your expectations realistic. It's not about creating the Best Ever Holiday, or comparing your experience to how you perceive others are feeling. Remember, Facebook postings are not the most accurate depiction of how your friends' lives are actually going, but merely how they want to be perceived. Most of us hold back the nitty gritty. All of us have challenges.
Practice Gratitude. It's a powerful healer any time of the year. Focus on what you have, not what you don't have. It's a simple fact. What we pay attention to is what we notice. Cultivating an awareness of what is right, good, and sustaining in our lives conditions us to notice more of the same.
Take care of the physical. You've heard it a million times, but making sure you're taking in quality nutrition to stabilize your blood sugars throughout the day, keeping hydrated, and getting adequate sleep, is going to go a long way to stabilizing mood and improving your coping skills. Regular exercise, especially now, will keep those Feel Good Endorphins pumping. It's tempting to take the edge off with alcohol, but remember alcohol is actually a depressant and can intensify feelings of sadness. Alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana cause a rise in serotonin levels and euphoria and then a drop to lower than normal levels soon after, potentially leaving you in a worse mood-state than before you indulged, so do so with care and moderation.
Be proactive. This may be your most important strategy. Take action now to anticipate your own needs and create community. Your holidays may not look the way you want them to, they may have changed a great deal over the years, but you can create new traditions, new Found Family, and take responsibility for creating your own happiness. Host an event for your single friends, have a tree trimming party, a cookie exchange, jump into a MeetUp, or find another way to get together. Even a holiday Netflix movie night with a friend can ease the soul. Volunteering can be a great way to stave off loneliness and connect. Spend time with people who care for you. Don't wait to be invited. Initiate. In the absence of family or safe family, create family. Reach out to someone you have lost touch with. Plan a lot of "doing" activities with others, particularly if you have more time off from work than usual. Plan ahead for the times when you are going to most need connection and make it happen.
If you're spending time with family and know it's going to be challenging, have a plan. Set a schedule ahead of time. Decide how long you are going to stay. And stick to it. Remember the wise words of Ram Dass, "If you think you're enlightened go spend a week with your family." The truth is, even in happier families, we challenge each other, fall into old roles and patterns, play out old hurts. The holidays are a prime time to play out these old schemes. In addition to your gifts, bring your awareness, notice how you are triggered, notice your own reactivity. Modify your expectations. Build a back door into your plans. Have a safe soft landing spot available, preferably with others who care about you.
Sometimes it's about who's not there. Some of us Singletons want to be coupled, want to have families, want to have children, and it hasn't happened yet. Some couples are struggling to have kids and the holidays can be especially hard, as there's an abundance of child-centered traditions to negotiate. Parents of adults often miss those beautiful Young Child Years and the grandchildren haven't arrived yet or live far away. The holidays can become a time of great longing. This is a good moment to connect with other families, to reach out to nephews and nieces, to shower some surprises on a neighbor or friend's child, and to align with organizations that give to families. In addition, your local singles groups and spiritual institutions will be organizing activities, if you can find a way to jump in, do so.
Treat yourself. It's a great time to indulge yourself with a few special foods, a movie, events, or an outfit, and definitely, a massage. Don't leave yourself out when it comes to gift-giving, either, particularly if you are unpaired right now. There have been years when I have picked things up for myself, wrapped them, and stuck them under the tree. The time this was the most fun, was when I did it over the course of the year and had no idea what I was getting by the time the holidays arrived. Being able to give to ourselves is an important mind-set and really great self-care. This includes treating yourself as a special guest in your own home. Frankly, this is a good year round strategy. Now might be a good time to remind you to decorate your place, if only a little, even if you are the only one there. It's for you. You deserve to have the things around you that you enjoy and that lift your energy. It's time to break out the candles, twinkle lights, and your favorite decorations.
If you don't yet meditate, start. Now. Meditation is tried and true. It heals the brain, smooths out the nervous system, reduces stress, increases creativity, cognition, and well-being, and generally cures what ails you. It can help carry you through difficult times. Get a jump on that New Year's Intention and do yourself a favor.
Here's the thing, empathic, sensitive, anxious, or introverted folks are going to tend to isolate in the first place. It's our first line of defense. Us quiet types are going to retreat from madding crowds in order to rejuvenate. It's what we do. It's what works for us on the daily. We may also tend to have a smaller circle of friends, to start with, because we value quality over quantity. Besides, maintaining too many relationships becomes overwhelming. During the holidays, however, our typical self-care strategies can backfire on us. We're still going to need our alone time in the midst of all the merry making, but we can end up being vulnerable to feeling isolated, lonely, and disconnected. Coping with the Holiday Blues will require us to move against our type a bit, reach out, and proactively create the safety net of connection that will carry us through.
The good news is, after a couple of weeks it will all be over, no matter what we do. You might as well choose to gift yourself with something other than Blue this year, though. So, wrapping it up, your holiday survival strategies are:
- Be with your feelings and yet choose not to drown in them.
- Know you're not alone. Lots of people get Blue during the holidays.
- Choose a mindset. Don't embrace your Victim.
- Connect to the meaning of the holiday.
- Take care of the physical, including some exercise.
- Don't over-indulge in alcohol.
- Be proactive and plan events, gatherings, and connecting time for yourself.
- Have a plan for dealing with difficult people. Stick to it.
- Be good to yourself.
- Cultivate gratitude
- Breathe. It will be 2014 soon enough.