The past few years during the holiday season, I’ve experienced what some would call anxiety and depression, but I like to call it “seasonal spiraling”. My “seasonal spiraling” occurs right before Thanksgiving and fades away around the New Year. It’s not necessarily one certain thing that sends me into an anxious whirlwind of emotions. It’s several, with one thing spinning into another and another, turning a joyful season into a giant snowball of stress.
I know I’m not alone in my seasonal spiraling. Like many, I lost a loved one, my father, and I still struggle during the holidays. When my stress levels get high during the holiday season, I tend to have dreams about my dad. When you start the day feeling disappointed and sad that someone you love is no longer a phone call away, it’s easy to carry that sadness with you throughout the day. It filters all your thoughts and encounters. Turning minor slights or annoyances in to full on crises. I’m lucky to have a good support group, that includes friends and friends of friends, that have made their careers in the business of helping others. I reached out to my friend Meredith Monforton, an experienced health and social services professional, on her thoughts on coping when missing a loved one during the holiday season.
“The holidays are generally a time to be with family, so feelings of sadness and loneliness can be magnified when a loved one is no longer present,” Monforton noted. “Remember the grieving process doesn’t have a timeline. There is no finite time of when to stop grieving. Allowing yourself the time needed to grieve, cry and feel your emotions will lead towards healing.”
She gave me these tips, which I think I should have laminated and posted in my bathroom. Hopefully, others will find them helpful too.
- Recognize that you are not alone in your sadness during the holidays. Many are dealing with hurt and loss and have difficulty finding joy in the holidays.
- Take the time to remember the loved one in a way that will bring you happiness. This can be something personal, taking time to reflect, volunteering at an organization that meant something to your loved one or starting a new family tradition that brings about remembrance.
- Confide in a trusted family member or friend about your feelings. Don’t go through the holidays with bottled up feelings. Whether the passing of your loved one was recent or years ago, talking with someone about your feelings will reduce the feeling of depression. If you find your emotions are preventing you from doing daily activities, seek out a professional for help.
My kid’s mountain of laundry stresses me out enough on a good day, but in the month of December between all the obligations and expectations, my snowball of stress turns that laundry into an avalanche. When it comes to dealing with anxiety due to holiday demands, MJ Kirby, Associate Pastor at St Paul United Methodist Church in Ocean Springs, offered two great pieces of advice. Take time for yourself and lower your expectations.
“Everyone is having a party or attending a party and all these joyous occasions are fun but you need some “you” time,” Kirby says. “You need quiet times to rejuvenate, reflect, practice yoga, go for a walk or journal. The bottom line is personal time is scarce and it’s going to get more the closer we get to Christmas —so you need to be intentional about carving out some moments for you. After all, “holiday” means “an event where no work is done.”
As for lowering expectations, Kirby says, “It sounds pessimistic, but if you lower your expectations of having a great time, at say, your sister-in-law’s lavish Christmas party that you aren’t looking forward to, you are less likely to be gripped by bitter disappointment if you don’t have a good time.” Kirby says that you may in fact be pleasantly surprised when your days turn out better than you anticipated, if you don’t hold them to such a high standard. “When everything has to be perfect for you to be happy, you are setting yourself up for not just a Christmas of disappointments, but a lifetime of misery. It’s highly unlikely your family’s behavior will have changed in the 12 months since last Christmas, so let the serenity prayer become your daily Christmas mantra, but also lower your expectations.”
The most difficult piece of advice I got from Kirby and Monforton on lessening anxiety…..saying NO. If someone asks you to bake all the cookies for a party and you find yourself breaking out into hives, Kirby says it’s best to acknowledge your limits and use your voice to say, “NO”.
“Be kind to yourself and just say “no” and politely decline. It’s important to enjoy the holiday and realize you don’t have to be superhuman. Once stretched too thin, it’s difficult to get yourself back to normal.” Did someone say “spiraling”?! “Step back, take a moment to evaluate what you can handle, and go from there,” suggests Kirby.
“If you won’t say no for yourself, say no for your family,” Kirby adds. “When you get overwhelmed with too many yeses, your family will catch the brunt of it.” More importantly, as Monforton notes, friends and family will understand. “Feel free to turn down the neighborhood Christmas party if curling up on the couch with your family to watch Christmas movies is what you would prefer to do”.
My hope for my friends, family and myself is for the holiday season to be filled with love, laughter and calm.
Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ellen Perkins, owner and instructor of mediation and movement classes at Downtown Yoga in Ocean Springs, is happy to share the gifts of yoga to her community. She is committed to enhancing awareness of the mental health issues so many people face. Her space provides a safe and comfortable atmosphere where people are truly starting to heal.
1) Practice Yoga
Stressed or have the holiday blues? Take time a to practice the healing art of yoga. During times of stress and unease, gentle and restorative classes are best. This style of yoga can reduce heat rate, lower blood pressure and ease respiration. There is growing evidence that suggests yoga can increase mental and physical health by practicing this low-risk, high yielding approach to improve your overall well being. Yoga will help you respond to life challenges and stressors with more flexibility.
Whether a life long practitioner or a new beginner, the holidays are a perfect time to put on some soft clothes and roll out your mat.
2) Concentrate on your breathing
Find somewhere comfortable and quiet to practice conscious breathing. Begin by simply softening the face, unclenching the jaw and start breathing in and out through your nose. Once settled begin to take deep, long, quiet breaths concentrating on the air as it comes into and out of the body. If new to meditation or mindful breathing, set a timer, usually anywhere from 3-10 minutes should be enough time to hit the restart button so you may move through the rest of the day with a bit more poise and ease.
3) Practice Mindfulness
Being mindful means being present, even if it’s the last thing you feel like being! The purpose is to allow ourselves to feel emotions and think thoughts, but not be overwhelmed with them and instead accept that they are part of the moment, but will change. There’s no right or wrong with mindfulness, there is just observance.
Before you attend any functions, check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling. Take a few moments to breathe deeply and assess your feelings and thoughts. Don’t consider any to be good or bad, just notice them. Take a few big breaths, expanding and deflating your abdomen.
4) Be Present
Stress often comes from thinking about the past or future, rather than planning ourselves in the present. This can lead to anxiety and stress over what’s to come or what may have happened in the past, and by working to be present instead we can relieve much of that stress. The holiday season often means one thing after another, but if you can find a way to concentrate only on each thing as it occurs then that should ease some of the tension. Of course, you’ll need to do some forward planning, but set aside time to do this and don’t get caught in a cycle of constantly thinking about what’s next!
5) Be Compassionate with Yourself
Practicing compassion is an essential quality for you to establish equanimity and harmony in your life. To do this, you begin by being kind to yourself. As if you were a child in need of loving reassurance, being compassionate means telling yourself everything is going to be ok. Sometimes I tell myself, “It’s going to be ok, sweetheart.” This small but powerful gesture will give you peace of mind and relieve pressure by being mindful in that moment.
Once you can be easier on yourself, you will inherently become easier on others. No one is perfect. Not many things go as planned, and that ok! It’s the wonder and mystery of this life that that makes it enjoyable and often surprising.
By practicing yoga and mindfulness, you can let this holiday season be one of contentment and joy.