This time of year there are images of family and holiday “cheer” all around us. I started seeing Christmas decorations at my local CVS the day after Halloween, so the season as it were, seems to be several months long. As I reflect on this, I’m struck with this thought: what we take in are in fact images, but not necessarily reflections of our own truths which can trigger a variety of responses depending upon our own experiences when it comes to family and holidays.
Perhaps, then, it could be useful to become mindful of the way in which we can feel both celebratory and nostalgic, at times, during the holiday season while also having pockets of grief, loneliness, or even resentment. And, if the latter is most resonant with your experience, rather than wishing for a period of hibernation that ends promptly on Jan 2nd, consider the following strategies to support and nurture yourself this season:
Creation of a gratitude or blessing bowl: A glass bowl with colored paper is a unique a mindful way to help bring to life all of the sources of hope you can name even when in touch with other unpleasant emotions. I’m not suggesting that in times of upset you merely “turn that frown upside down”, but rather inviting you to also find a contained space to hold on to what is also true about your life, even as you are in touch with negative emotions. I like to put the bowl with paper and colored pens in the center of my dining room table so that anyone who comes over is invited to contribute. Then, on New Year’s Eve I take the blessings and gratitudes out and read them aloud to help set the intention for a new year. For me, this is a ritual of containment, and a conscious way I endeavor to remind myself that I am of many minds with many emotions at any given moment.
Taking your inner child out on a date: I like to ask my littlest self what would feel fun or yummy as an activity if I’m feeling particularly lonely or disconnected, which many of us can feel around the holidays. This year, my little one and I are making a gingerbread house out of graham crackers & went to visit kitten adoption locations so we could hold and play with kittens. In past years, I’ve gone and made myself something at Color Me Mine or gotten a facial or massage, just because. While both may seem like frivolous or unimportant to my adult self, my little self will benefit from the attention and self care so that I can manage feelings of being depleted or overwhelmed, which are both personal triggers around this time.
As a family therapist, I often meet people for whom family and family members are sources of stress or even trauma. If this is your story, and “going home for the holidays” feels like revisiting the scene or a crime, it is critical that you find ways to reclaim the holiday period with new memories of your own, new rituals, and new narratives. Maybe you reclaim the holiday to be celebrated on an alternative day, or with family of choice rather than family of birth. Or perhaps you seek out opportunities to be of service with a charity or volunteer organization. Or maybe you seek connection with like minded folks on in the form of a support group or spiritual community (for example, Overeaters Anonymous has 24 hour meetings scheduled in Los Angeles on many holidays because its members know how triggering holiday events can be with managing food triggers).
Families are where we come from, inform where we are going, and are exquisitely and beautifully complicated for most of us. If, then, you feel a mixture of emotions this holiday season, you are in good company, and as do all seasons, it will pass and something new will emerge very soon.