All Those Not-So-Holiday Feelings

Loss is an inevitable part of life, and the holiday season is notorious for magnifying the pain of sadness and grief. It's dark, it's cold, and everyone seems to be rushing around, barely containing their myriad anxieties about finances, family, relationships, and all the expectations those carry. Family and financial stress are challenging enough, but when you add to that feelings of sadness and loss, it becomes a struggle to keep up with the season's contradicting expectations.

Many of us are emotionally impacted by the lack of light, the change in weather, and slower pace of the winter. These changes get amplified if you've lost one or more loved ones to death, separation, loss of mental faculties or physical degeneration, or some other way- or feel a pervasive sadness that doesn't seem to have a cause. Winter itself can make it harder to navigate feelings of mourning and grief. In addition, the expectations of the holidays put extra pressure on folks to show up as their “best selves.”

But the truth is, we don't have a “best self.” We just have our own self. With all our pain, our grief, our hopes, our excitement, our frustrations, our accomplishments, and our joy. No commercials, family members, discount sales, big dinners, or tree lightings get to tell you who you are. Bring whoever you are right now to the table. And while you do that: Give yourself full permission to leave the table early, bring nothing to it, bring everything you've got, ask new questions, or decide to pick a totally different table. Or just take a nap.

A few reminders for self-care:

  • It's okay to go to bed early. It might be a good opportunity to start your wind-down time with some intentional pampering, like fresh sheets on the bed, a bath or hot shower, some essential oils, and a book or journal.

  • Bundle up. Wear a fluffy vest and some cute socks. Grab your pet or a stuffed animal, or a soft blanket and your favorite pillow.

  • Try updating your lighting. Now's a good time to make sure you have light that is gentle and not harsh, and that you feel relaxed when the lights are on. A too-bright or too-dark room for your tastes doesn't have to be the norm. (In fact- anything that's too anything for your tastes doesn't have to be the norm.)

  • Text and chat as often as you can. It doesn't have to be anything substantial, but staying in touch with your chosen people- those who nurture and encourage you- can help you remember there's more to your world than what you see in front of you.

  • Coloring books. I'm not kidding. Here are some of my favorites.

  • Move your body. Walking or moving, especially outdoors, even (especially!) when it's cold, can help you feel more connected to your vitality. If movement is challenging to you, try breathing deeply for a count of three in, hold for one, and out for a count of four.

  • If you're interested in psychoanalysis at all, the winter is a good time to read (or re-read) Freud's 1917 paper, Mourning and Melancholia. Here is a link to a .pdf online.

Feelings come and go. Some linger longer than others depending on what they have to teach us, and how well we can take care of ourselves in the meantime. Take care of your little seed now, so it can germinate and sprout when the time is right.

Healing is not linear. Grief has no deadline. You are not broken. Your ancestors have carried you through anxiety and worry. Your body remembers and it is possible to feel that way again.
— Fabian Romero