- December 18, 2022
- 1 Comment
What it is about the holiday season that brings with it some of the most complex emotions? Beginning as early as November, we hear Christmas music on the radio, blithely heralding in the season, and the smell of confections permeate the air, and yet what isn’t to love about yuletide? With all the messages
of good cheer and “to all a good night,” and “God bless us everyone,” it can be confusing when we can’t access holly jolly feelings.
It’s less confusing for therapists on the other side of these conversations.
As you process mixed feelings about the holidays, it can be helpful to keep some of the following in mind. Holidays represent a great deal more than celebration and fun. They represent a change in the season, the passage of time, tradition and ritual, as well as opportunities for relational conflict. These can all significantly impact our mental health for a number of reasons:
Rituals in December represent another year drawing to a close and offer opportunities for personal
reflection. When years come to an end, we often take stock of how the year has unfolded. If we’ve met our goals, whether we’ve met our potential or disappointed ourselves or our loved ones in some way. When another year ends, and we’ve not accomplished something significant or face disappointments, we can craft messages about ourselves based on this information. Industries are built entirely around counting on you to do so, when January 1 rolls around. “New Year, New you?”
Consider: Interacting with this time of personal reflection as an act of self-love and compassion. Write yourself a letter to appreciate the lessons you’ve learned this year. Talk to yourself the way you would a loved one and interact with disappointments with kindness and ask yourself good questions. Honor your journey as the year ends and thank yourself for the ways you’ve cared well for yourself and make a plan to care for yourself in 2023.
Holidays can also be the sites of re-experiencing grief. Holidays are rife with tradition. Traditions involve loved ones and experiences that may be lost to us. If we no longer have access to relationships due to those that have ended or are estranged, or in the event of death, interacting with the holidays can
awaken feelings of grief and loss.
Consider: Making new traditions! Try something new that feels specific to you and your relationships. It is often helpful to try on new ways of being when faced with the inability to maintain traditions. Also, try honoring traditions as an act of memorial. If you maintained a yearly tradition with someone who is gone, you may wish to interact with the activity to remember them with fondness and gratitude. Keep in mind, that traditions can shift and adjust overtime, and we are not betraying ourselves, or our loved ones if we make adjustments based on time, energy, resources, or emotional load from year to year.
Holidays mean family. And family can be complicated.
There isn’t a therapist that hasn’t spoken with a client experiencing the complexity of family life around the holidays. There is a broad spectrum of complex family dynamics ranging from basic boundary setting to the more difficult relational dynamics of unhealthy communication styles, wounds, and estrangement within family systems.
Consider: Think through your preferences for holiday celebrations and clearly communicate your expectations with family. This may include financial expectations around gift giving, time expectations around holiday celebrations, and emotional expectations regarding how to love each other well during
time spent together.
Think through how holiday celebrations are typically experienced and how you either enjoy or find discomfort in those experiences. Imagine yourself in those scenarios and make a plan for how to practice self-care, and good communication. The holidays are a time of joy and emotional difficulty for many. If you are feeling a need for additional support this season, please access mental health resources for yourself.
Jo Kelly, LLC