For decades I’ve been watching my patients come out of the holidays a notch lower than when they went in. No matter how much I would warn and advise and counsel about moderation, it didn’t seem to help.
I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a massive underlying emotional sinkhole at play here, one driven by anxiety, compulsion and insecurity that leads to all the excesses. One to which I am not immune myself!
The holiday season seems to bring out all our unresolved feelings about how we relate to our family, friends and community. If we are not solidly fine in our own skin, we are vulnerable to the pressure of the season: to show every person who is remotely close to us that we care about them with an effort of time, energy and/or money, all of which tend to be in short supply during this darkest, coldest and most tired time of year. Which ends up with some of us exhausted before the holidays even start!
What to do?
One response is to eat, drink, shop and party ourselves into oblivion, suppressing those unpleasant feelings into a small corner of our awareness, there to lurk and growl. Which of course ends up with January being almost unbearable and by March having us want to climb out of our by now very uncomfortable skins. Not until the sun warms us in April does the collective mood start to rise again.
Consider this alternative: take physical and emotional stock and re-plan the season accordingly.
This is easier said than done with the motif of the season being “never enough time”…even taking a few minutes to sit and think seems impossible. I was feeling sucked into this hole last week, just as I am every year, kicking and screaming that there must be a better way. And I finally gave up. Just stopped and lay down on the couch in front of the wood stove and took a nap. When I woke up, something had changed. I had stepped out of my unrealistic expectations into a state of relaxation and acceptance of my imperfect self. Whatever was doable in my already busy life would be done with pleasure or not done at all. No one would notice or remember by New Year’s that I had not contributed a hastily scribbled card or anxiously bought gift…but they might notice that I had more energy to give to those close to me…
I began to cancel plans, down-size dinners and block off time to rest and recharge so that there will be energy for the real everyday life at the end of this holiday tunnel. Not surprisingly, people have been reacting with relief and permission to do the same.
Some people come to this enlightenment earlier in their lives. They have relaxed families who collaborate on making the holidays comfortable for everyone. It is a time of joy and connection. Eating and drinking are moderate and in a context of gratitude. Good for them!
As for everyone else, here’s to finding our honest level of comfort, prioritizing our health and well-being over the holidays so that we are better able to give to others the rest of the year.
Merry Christmas and Happy, Healthy Holidays!