How to Deal with Mixed Feelings During the Holidays

The winter holiday season can be a fabulous time of year. The general mood is one of good will and celebration, where family and friends come together with loving feelings. It is also a spiritual time. Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca) and the winter solstice are all celebrated at this time of year. The fact that it is a world-wide holiday time adds to the sense of connection and sentiment.

Yet it can all turn on a dime. For many there is a darker side of the holidays lurking in the shadows.

For years I felt both joy and pain around the holidays. Growing up, Christmas was the one time of the year when everyone in my family was nice to each other. As an adult it became a very nostalgic time, and a sad time that brought up childhood pain and loneliness. Family strife, unwanted obligations, financial limitations, relationship problems, or a lack of close friends can bring up a lot of difficult feelings—anxiety, resentment, sadness, and the most difficult of all, loneliness.

When I was young and unhappy, I used to compare my life to the commercialized Christmas images of perfect families, eating perfect meals, giving perfect presents, and would feel mighty bad about myself. Yet, it was still my favorite time of year.

Then it is all topped off by New Year’s, where we are supposed to celebrate all we have accomplished, or, simply let go of a difficult year and start fresh by proclaiming a few resolutions. Easier said than done.

Allow time for your feelings.
Take time to just sit with whatever is going on in you. (Three to five minutes may be all it takes.) We often stop ourselves from acknowledging what we  feel because we think it’s going to get in the way of what we are doing. One of the greatest ways to be self-honoring is to be emotionally honest with yourself. Emotions are not meant to interfere with your life, but to inform it.

Define what you are feeling, specifically.
Try to be as specific as you can about what you feel, and accept that you can have mixed feelings at the same time. You may be happy in your job, and angry at your boss. You may feel sad because this is the first holiday without a loved one who’s passed away, and joyful because your life is good. The more clearly you experience your feelings, the more energy you will have.

Having your feelings doesn’t mean you have to express them.
You may be with people you do not feel safe to express the feelings you are in touch with. This doesn’t mean you have to stuff those feelings. Rather, acknowledge them to yourself, then take some kind of action that will help you distance your attachment to others’ behavior. If you have a relative you can’t stand, try looking at that person as an observer, as if you are studying them for a report you’re going to do. Be curious as to why they behave the way they do. This will help to become more detached from their behavior without shutting down.

Assess what idealized concepts you may be comparing yourselves to.
Advertising bombards us with idealized everything. All you need is a Mastercard and a willingness to go deeply into debt. So often we suffer over not being someone we think we should be, while letting some wonderful part of who we are go unacknowledged.

It’s the season of giving. What can you give to yourself?
Looking for others to make us happy is a limited way of thinking. If you are lonely and feeling sorry for yourself, set a timer for fifteen minutes and feel as sorry for yourself as you can. (I challenge you to keep it up for a full 15 minutes!) Then get up and go do something you enjoy. Go out into the world. Go for a walk, or to a movie; sit in a coffee shop and say hello to a stranger. Buy yourself a little something, or volunteer. It doesn’t have to be monumental, but make an effort to connect, whether it is to another person, an animal, or simply connect with yourself.

Be willing to change.
Be open to a new way of “doing” the holidays. The first Christmas after my parents died, I notified my siblings that I was not feeling the spirit that year and would not be sending gifts and there was no obligation to send me anything. It was freeing and felt like I was in my own integrity. If you are really in the spirit but don’t have much money, get creative. Writing a letter to someone that tells them exactly how you feel or what you admire about them. What a tremendous gift that would be to receive.

If you have a particular holiday challenge or success you’d like to share, please be sure to leave a comment. I would enjoy hearing from you.