Surviving the Christmas Season

If there is one thing we know about being human, it is that this time of year can elicit a myriad of emotions. It can trigger happiness and sadness, love and loneliness, gratitude, stress and anxiety in equal measure. Our emotions are like a continuum, all demanding varying levels of attention at different stages throughout our lives, but come winter time, they like to scream and shout.

What I have learned from my therapeutic practice is that many of these emotions are linked to our own psychological wounds. But the important thing to remind ourselves is that such emotions (and wounds) are tolerable and transient. And there are things that can help when you feel this way.

And that is what I would like to share with you. Below I have outlined some current prevailing themes within my therapy room.  So, have a read below and see if anything resonates for you. I hope you find it helpful!

Self Compassion

What always amazes me is how unkind we are to ourselves when we are going through a difficult time. When we are experiencing emotional pain we need to be kind to ourselves,  just as we would if we were in physical pain.  This can be done on an action based level and a cognitive level.

Ask yourself, what do I need right now? What will help me get through today? For some people that might mean watching a boxset, eating takeaway, watching a movie. For others it might mean going to the gym or doing some meditation or yoga.

We all have an inner critic, who becomes the default when are we feeling low and consequently our thinking becomes distorted and we start feeling badly about ourselves. This tends to make use feel worse!

Think about if a friend came to you whilst sad, how would you respond to them? Would you tell them to go away and sort themselves out and leave you alone? Or would you be more empathic toward them? Would you remind your friend that they are going through a difficult time right now? That they will get through it and that you are there for them? Would you listen to them, give them a hug, show them you care?

Now, how do you respond to yourself when you are feeling sad? Would you offer yourself the same compassion and as you would your friend? If not, then this is something that needs to be different for you. 

So perhaps next time round, try something like this

  • Acknowledge your pain: I am experiencing X right now
  • Acknowledge the commonality of this: X is common to all/ everyone experiences X, especially this time of year
  • Remind yourself to take it one step at a time: I will take it day by day, moment  by moment
  • Remind yourself it will pass: This too shall pass
  • What do you wish for yourself?  I send/wish myself love and kindness today.   

This is a very brief introduction to self-compassion. You will find more detailed information here: https://self-compassion.org/ and here https://compassionatemind.co.uk/

Connect with others

Despite having busy social calendars, people often feel disconnected, isolated and lonely this time of year, particularly if they’ve lost a loved one.

It can often be hard to connect with others when you’re experiencing difficult emotions. Avoiding social events is a go to coping style but it can often lead to increased despair. What I have noticed helps with this is to connect with people in a way that feels safe and right for you.

That means meeting up with friends or family somewhere that’s not triggering for you.  It could mean doing something different like going for a walk, coffee, cinema, meeting in your own home.  What’s important to remember here is if you don’t want to talk about what’s going on for you then don’t. Sometimes paying too much attention to our pain is as bad as paying to little, particularly  when our emotions are heightened.

The simple act of connecting with those we love and having a laugh can be all we need in that moment and provide the relief we are looking for. 

Overcome emotional flooding in the moment

If you feel you are going to burst into tears or have a panic attack, have some tools in place to help you .The key thing to ask yourself is ‘What do I need right now? What will help me right now in this moment? Prepare yourself before you leave the house by doing whatever works for you to keep you grounded.  Some things that have worked for clients include:

  • Deep breathing 7/11 – In for a count of 7 out for 11. Repeat 3 times.
  • Carry a ‘worry stone’ or ‘stress ball’ with you. Squeeze your tension/pain into this and imagine it leaving your mind and body.
  • Have a mantra such as ‘This too shall pass. I am okay’
  • Distract yourself with your phone or by engaging the senses (5,4,3,2,1 see previous post for detail on this)

Again, this is a very brief introduction to technique based practice. For a practical guide on this, I would recommend a book called The Road to Calm by Carolyn Diatch. See link here: https://carolyndaitchphd.com/store/road-to-calm/ It includes lots of useful practices to help overcome emotional flooding.

Build and maintain Boundaries with Family

Family can be triggering for all of us. If you find that you are nervous about spending time with family then it’s important to hold firm boundaries with them so that they don’t cross the line. Here are some tips for maintaining boundaries with family.

  • Saying no and meaning no: i.e. following through on what it is that you said no to and not giving in last minute to the emotional manipulation of family member.
  • Impress don’t regress: Family expect you to behave in a particular way and they will push your buttons until you do. Impress them by showing that you are no-longer that version of yourself! That might mean engaging with your family in a way that you haven’t before. This will make it less likely that you will regress and more likely that you will impress!
  • Responding not reacting: Be calm in your engagement, don’t shout as that will not communicate the message. It will likely result in further anger. Respond calmly and repeat yourself as many times as is needed. 
  • Time management: Have a contingency plan if you need some family free time by setting aside time for meeting friends, or getting out of the household.   

This is merely a brief introduction into effective communication, something we can all benefit from practicing more of.  If you would like to learn more about this, visit website below, by  Dr. Julie Hanks: http://www.drjuliehanks.com/assertiveness-guide/. She has an excellent book on assertive communication and some practical guides about it.

So that concludes my four themes for helping you through the Christmas holidays. I wish you a happy, peaceful Christmas and remember to enjoy yourself! 

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