by Sherry J. Olander, licensed DEI Trainer & Consultant
This time of year is chock full of holidays from various cultures and religions. In America, the holiday season usually begins at Thanksgiving and continues until New Year’s Day. During this time there is a lot going on and most people will say that it is very stressful!
If you are familiar with Dynamic Emotional Integration® and the work of Karla McLaren, you may recognize that stress is what we call a weasel word. This means that it doesn’t actually describe any specific emotion, but rather a vague state that can contain one or many different emotions.
Research has shown that even the simple ability to specifically identify and name your emotions can help you deal with them. You’ll probably experience every single one of your emotions during the holidays. Let’s look a little closer at some specific emotions and what you can do to prepare for them.
Deck the house, buy the presents, fix the car, help the kids, plan the travel, go to parties… Anxiety is the emotion that helps you prepare for the future, and at its free-flowing level it won’t be overwhelming. But at this time of year you probably have a whole heck of a lot more to plan and prepare for than you do in other months.
“There is enough time for every important thing.” – Karla McLaren
When you have more on your plate than you actually have time or resources for, anxiety might feel to you more like panic and not at all helpful for getting things done. With all of the extra “to-dos” at this time, it makes sense that your anxiety is going to be a little more activated than usual.
A simple practice for anxiety is to ask the question: “what really needs to get done?” This can help prioritize and focus your efforts. It is easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of holiday spirit and commercial pressure, but checking in with your internal emotional planner – your anxiety – can help you realize what really needs to get done and what you can just let go of.
“I really want to be with my family for the holiday.” vs. “I’m never going to hear the end of it if I’m not with my family for the holiday.”
There are two types of shame. One type comes from your own internal sense of right and wrong. This authentic shame is the emotion that helps you be the type of person you want to be in the world. The other type comes from external messages that don’t necessarily have anything to do with your true self. That type of shame is called inauthentic or toxic shame, and during the holidays there is a lot to go around! You might feel constantly bombarded with messages from commercials, your family, your employer – everywhere you turn someone is telling you what you should or shouldn’t do.
There is a practice that is very helpful in combating toxic shame. Karla McLaren talks about it in her books Language of Emotions and Art of Empathy, but she also explains the practice in her video series. It is called Burning Contracts, and it can help you disconnect yourself from old obligations, patterns, or tendencies that no longer serve you. Check it out here!
If you’ve lost a loved one (to death or estrangement), if you’ve never had a loving family at the holidays, if you wanted a mate or children and do not have them – you may be feeling grief. On the whole, society does not allow much space for this emotion, but it is one that needs to be honored and accepted. It is so common for grief to arise during this time of year. So, what can you do about it?
Get support. Prepare yourself for heading in to this period that may be difficult for you by reaching out and finding someone you can talk to. This can be a therapist, counselor, someone in a support group, colleague, or friend. Make sure it is someone that you trust. If possible, arrange with this person ahead of time to see if they are willing to talk with you should the need arise during a family gathering or similar situation.
Grief is a very visceral emotion, and it will bring you solidly down into your body. Even though the chaotic nature of the holiday season might have you throwing your physical self-care out the window, grief reminds you that this is not the way! If you can only choose one area of self-care to maintain during this time – choose sleep.
Sleep not only helps with grief, but with all emotions. Research has shown that good sleep will actually help you process and work through your emotions. It might seem like an impossible task to get enough good, quality sleep during this busy time, but the more rested you are going in, the better you will be able to get through. If you know things will get busier and more hectic later in the month, then take steps now to replenish your internal resources, and ensure that you are as well-rested as possible.
Sometimes, though, there’s nothing else you can do. You may be in a space where you are already doing the best you can; maybe you can’t sleep, maybe you can’t find support, and maybe your to-do list just won’t get shorter. In these situations, another option that can help you through is creativity.
Dancing, coloring, art, crafts, cooking, hobbies – whatever is your favorite mode of expression – creative outlets can be extremely helpful and healing when you’re dealing with difficult emotions. Your emotions arise for valid reasons, and it is important to honor them, even if you can’t fully understand or listen to their messages right now. Sometimes there is nothing you can do to improve or address a situation, but if you have an outlet to creatively express what is going on for you, it might just be enough to get you through.
*** Emotions are a source of invaluable wisdom within you, but sometimes they can become unmanageable. Do not hesitate to seek out support and help if you are feeling overwhelmed.
You are not alone and there is support!
Sherry J. Olander is a licensed DEI trainer and consultant. She believes that empathically honoring each person’s unique emotional experience of life is essential to helping them through their journey. Based in Charlottesville, Virginia, Sherry offers trainings and consultations both locally and online.