It’s an understatement to say that 2020 has been a stressful year, and it’s likely the holidays will be more difficult than usual.
Many have been isolated from friends and loved ones for over eight months and are facing a long winter of continued social distancing. The economy might be booming on Wall Street, but most people experience economic hardship. Societal upheavals have revealed racial inequities that can no longer be ignored. And no matter what your political views, we can all agree the US is deeply divided at the moment. It’s no surprise that doctors and dentists are reporting increases in headaches, insomnia, cracked teeth, hair loss and other stress-related conditions.
As for the holidays, even in normal times, most people experience stress during the holidays according to the American Psychological Association. And these are not normal times. Even if you’re lucky enough to gather for the holidays with family and friends, it’s likely someone important to you will be missing.
So how do you make it through the holidays? It might seem like your choices are limited: either force yourself into the holiday spirit and ignore any feelings to the contrary, or join Scrooge and give up on the holidays. But neither of these choices will make the holidays better.
There are some much kinder, gentler choices that can provide a real sense of support.
- Recognize the holidays are likely to produce mixed feelings. Give yourself permission to feel both the good and the bad. Feelings come and go. Happy, sad, angry, afraid… these are basic feelings that arise and then something else happens and different feelings arise. You can’t make a feeling a permanent state, unless perhaps you are Buddha. Denying uncomfortable feelings actually keeps them around, under the table. When you acknowledge your sadness, fear, and even anger, it can be released.
- When you are feeling a difficult feeling, name it to yourself and simply allow yourself to feel it… without taking any action. When you act out in reaction to feelings of anger or hurt, you make things worse. You might temporarily alleviate your uncomfortable feelings, but you will have created a mess around you. Instead, just feel the feeling while it is there. There’s no need to take action while you are in the grips of a strong feeling. Have conversations later.
- Don’t pretend to others that you are feeling good when you’re not. You don’t need to reveal all your deepest and darkest issues. You can simply tell your friends the holidays are difficult this year, or that you’re feeling sad in the moment, or that you have mixed feelings.
- Be kind to others. If a friend does something thoughtless or a stranger says something hurtful, it’s quite likely they are in pain. Give people a little more latitude than you might normally.
- Take a deep breath. Often when we are stressed, our breathing becomes shallow. The simple act of taking some deeper breaths can help refocus your attention and release unconscious stress.
There is also the possibility of experiencing gratitude, even in the midst of these stressful times. One of my most popular blog posts, How to Find Thanks and Gratitude, offers 8 tips you might find useful. But don’t try to force yourself. Remember the words of Mary Anne Radmacher, “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”