Okay. We have gone through a worldwide pandemic, an upsetting series of political elections, marches, rallies and trials. And now, on top of everything, we now must deal with the holidays. It’s not shocking that as Hanukah and Christmas approach, we are seeing lots of anxieties surface. Of course, we are seeing the usual. Expectations, disappointments, sadness, depression, and loneliness are some of the common feelings as the Christmas music starts playing in the mall and on TV. Well, maybe not everyone is in the mall these days due to Covid, but at least most people have a radio, computer or TV that is probably going to play White Christmas or Jingle Bells from thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. On January 2, the world pauses from having fun – but until then we are expected to be happy or at least feel grateful at all the gift giving, good food and drinks.
So how do we cope with the holidays? As we anticipate seeing relatives who push our buttons and make us feel really small, how do we deal with feeling like children in adult bodies? How terrible it is to feel empty and sad without really knowing why. We ask ourselves over and over, in so many ways, about the reasons why we are feeling so sad. Why, what for, how – and do I really care? Why do I care? What are the reasons for the holiday blues? The answer this year may be to get a Christmas mask with little reindeers or Santa’s, but more likely the answer to coping with the holidays in a world that is coming out of a worldwide pandemic is to find someone to chat with about how you are feeling. Simply put, talk therapy can help you figure out how you feel, what you feel, and the patterns that exist in your life that keep repeating over and over again. It’s called the repetition compulsion. Maybe you too can go back to infancy, childhood or grade school to talk about how you were raised, and how you came to be you. Examples: What were your first words, when did you walk? Were you loved? Did your mom make a scrapbook with the lock of hair from your first haircut? You can ask yourself these questions over and over – or find someone to ask them for you. It’s that easy!
If you are feeling bad about old feelings resurfacing as the first Christmas lights appear, you are not alone. And if you really want to figure out why you are feeling like your childhood has never left you, that’s because it has never left. We leave our childhood, but our childhoods never leave us. The implications of childhood live inside us forever. Through awareness, we can make changes in how we view ourselves and how we tell the story of our lives. Say hello to your inner child. As you approach the little elves in the mall and the Christmas garland around the lamposts, take time out to be mindful and compassionate with yourself. There’s the Santa Clause at the mall – who unfortunately cannot have any children on their laps this Christmas. Oh well, there’s always next year. And there is the big Christmas tree in New York City that you see on the morning news. I am quite sure we all can’t wait until the Christmas decorations are taken down. Oh, there are my friends in Hawaii or Mexico. Yes, it must be the Holidays. If you feel like Scrooge, you are not alone. Trust me!
Ask yourself how you are coping with the impacts of the past this holiday season, and see if you can trade up your negative coping skills for ones that are more positive. Want an example? If you come home every day and watch TV, try going to the gym after work. If you find yourself with a little OCD around gift giving, make a list of gifts you need to get and where to get them. Be creative. If you find yourself drinking or eating too much as the holidays approach– look at your behavior with mindfulness and make small changes. Remember, the art of changing bad habits and creating new ones is to make changes in small chunks. Want to go the gym but can’t get motivated? Try going to the gym every day for 5 minutes until the routine creates a new habit. Read the book by James Clear called Atomic Habits.
I have come to understand (thanks to lots of therapy, good teachers, role models and empathetic friends) that “our parents did their best.” But frankly, the phrase has never made me feel any better. Bessel Van Der Kolk tells us that what the mind forgets, the body remembers. Makes sense, right? The word “trauma” is now everywhere, and while we may tell ourselves that we really did not have a traumatic upbringing because “so many people had it worse,” the contemplation itself means that somewhere down the line you were either misunderstood or emotionally neglected. Or maybe your parents had too little or too many expectations that did not match who you were.
I wish I could end this reverie on the holidays by saying that Christmas time often resurfaces old wounds. I would love to end the discussion with 4 bullet points of advice such as: Self-care, Mindfulness, Emotional preparation as you see relatives, and the simple maxim that not everyone is as happy as they seem. Instagram lies and so does Facebook. But bullet points don’t hold up to simple therapy, any more than Good Housekeeping is the guide to mental health. Nothing holds weight if we don’t recognize the voice of our inner child, who wants to be heard. I want a big present wrapped up with a bow and a new bicycle. I want what you want because I want to be loved. I also desire “raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,” but more than that I want to take the hand of my inner child and face the Christmas lights with some self-help books, a smile, and a couch where I can discuss my childhood. I will meet you on top of the Great Menorah or in the sky with Santa’s Reindeers as they paint the horizon with the color of my own thoughts and feelings.