So this discontent that accompanies the holidays is another example of paradox in life...that along with joy comes pain, along with celebration comes sadness, and along with community comes isolation. Do you allow yourself to experience the not so joyful part of the holidays or do you avoid it? Do you accept your dissatisfaction or do you attempt to force yourself and others to be jolly? Is there a way to accept the imperfections of our families, friends, jobs, finances, and moods this holiday season so that we can then have a different... and better... experience?
Here are three ways to process and accept the not-so-jolly feelings this time of year.
1. Name the negative feelings. Sad, Mad, Guilty, Ashamed, Rushed, Frantic, Afraid. Those are just a few of the many emotions we feel any time of year. But these "bad" feelings seem particularly closeted around the holidays, because really, who wants to be around an sad person at Christmas, or a mad person at Thanksgiving? But there's an important distinction between bringing others down and simply owning your emotions. By naming the feeling, recognizing when it's present, writing about it, painting a picture about it, talking to someone about it in an effort to move past it, you are coping in a healthy way. Complaining, whining, brooding, sulking, exploding, getting drunk or high...these are not healthy ways to express negative emotions because they impair relationships. These methods of expression send your loved ones running for the hills at the prospect of spending extra time with you this time of year. Take time to understand this distinction, then process the negative stuff in a way that will free you from it rather than creating more of it.
2. Choose one negative experience you've had around this time of year that may still trouble you, and write about it in rich detail. Really delve into the memory of it.... with the following important caveat.
Have a loved one or a professional within reach if your memory is extremely painful. Don't attempt to go at this alone your memory is traumatic, meaning it involved physical or psychological violence, a natural disaster, accident, combat, sexual abuse, or something equally disturbing. Use this checklist to help you recall traumatic events in your life. If you have experienced trauma, a mental health professional can help you work through it safely.
If you're memory is not traumatic, rather just unpleasant, continue this rich description process. Remember where you were, who was around (if anyone), what the surroundings looked like, particular objects, scents, and sights you recall from the day. Identify what upset you most. Was it specific words that were spoken, tone of voice used, and/or facial expressions that bothered you? Maybe you had a very negative experience and you were alone. What was the hardest part? Do you recall what was going through your mind? If your event involved the actions of others, what reactive thoughts do you recall having as the event was happening? What feelings did you have? It's important to distinguish thoughts and feelings here. Feelings get imprinted onto a memory and your later recollections of it, like at subsequent holiday gatherings or certain times of year. The feelings are the proverbial "baggage" that we carry. Once you've described your memory in detail, choose the least disturbing detail and bring it into your awareness while consciously relaxing for one minute. Set a timer on your phone, and sit in a relaxed state as you keep ask yourself, "is it possible to not pour more negative energy into this memory?" Then over the course of the next few days or weeks, successively bring the more troubling aspects of the memory, one at a time, into your awareness as you practice relaxation. You are re-training your brain to process the memory in a different way, and eventually it will become less uncomfortable.
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Kambria Kennedy-Dominguez, Counselor and yoga teacher specializing in mental health, substance abuse and wellness.