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Are the holidays tough for you?

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

*Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or mental health expert! If your feelings are overwhelming you, please seek support now: your GP, a counsellor, the Samaritans on 116 123 (in the UK).

When I first published this blog, I labelled it as niche. Just one year later I am better informed and realise that so many people find the holiday season a challenge, for a myriad of reasons. I hope that for many – the majority even, holidays are longed for, joyous occasions. Whether that be those lazy hazy sunny ones, or the annual festive ones, whatever festival is your go to (mine just happens to be Christmas). But for those of you who have their struggles, this is for you. This is my experience, and how I worked to change my perspective.

A few years back I found holidays very difficult. On the one hand I really looked forward to to the prospect of them, both a get away holiday and also a home festive feast, but I found the closer they got, the less I looked forward to them, and the more I actually started counting the days down with a growing sense of dread and foreboding and then guilt at these feelings.

Holiday meant no work; it meant downtime and for me that meant thinking time. My career had a structure and routine and just happened to be incredibly consuming and well yes “busy”. Working hours left very little bandwidth available for my inner critics and the anxiety I felt about the upcoming plans, parties, reunions, get-togethers, and general jollity. And I therefore crammed more work hours in as a self-medicating way of avoiding the unpleasant feelings. So, remove the structure of the working week, make my time my own and what followed, with predictable regularity, was a crash into an uncomfortable well of sadness, harsh critical introspection, and a bewilderment at why I alone could not feel the joy that those around me seemed to access so easily.

Life perhaps wasn't where I thought it should be, but I was also aware that there wasn't really anything specifically wrong. Ironically this fuelled my anger and confusion at how I felt. There was no rationality, and I couldn't see the pathway out of these feelings. Holidays magnified this so horrifically, suddenly all this extra time. I felt an overwhelming pressure and expectation to have fun, feel happy and contented, and to spread this cheer to all around me. I perceived this as my responsibility and it weighed so incredibly heavily on my shoulders. And with those closest to me, there was the continual gnawing fear that to share my feelings would be to disappoint, to worry and to let down. These are feelings many of us can identify with, throw on top any people pleasing tendencies you may have (and boy did I have them), and the situation becomes so compounded. I experienced the most awful of feelings for me – that of being a burden and an object of concern. The anxiety that my sadness may be catching - that I would walk into a room and immediately suck out all the joy, like a Dementor, of course only added to my worry...

Feeling lonely, isolated, angry, and sad at a time that is synonymous with joy is incredibly difficult. It is something that we are starting to hear about more, but it's perhaps another thing altogether to be able to say - that's me. These feelings sit uncomfortably alongside mince pies and Santa, or a dazzling sunset by the sea. I can say for me at least that I was ashamed to feel this way.

How Mindfulness can help:

Acknowledge it:

Acknowledge that where you are, is where you are. And how you feel is valid – because it’s how you feel. This was a key mindfulness skill taught to me. Initially it seems rather insignificant, but genuinely this is the foundational piece in how to move forward. When we can stop fighting so desperately what is our reality, we can begin to divert this energy instead into something more helpful and positive.

Practice experiencing the pleasant:

When we are in pain of any sort it can become rather insular. We become practiced at looking within. We can fall into autopilot so easily and if we spend too much time here, or in our heads, life can zip by, and we stop noticing the good stuff - and there is good stuff to be noticed for us all. A birdsong, a full moon, the smell of a fresh coffee, the smile from a stranger... Practice noticing these things and just naming them in the moment. It's a technique to nudge us out of one habit and towards a newer, more helpful one.

What else can we do?

I learnt to be more honest with myself and with my nearest as festive jumpers started to appear and invitations started landing. It's hard to communicate that perhaps things are not ok, and that you need some extra support, but my goodness the relief of not carrying it all alone. To have that friend squeeze your hand as you head into a room, to get that text message sending a hug, small things that let you know you are cared for.

I learnt to lower expectations I placed on myself I didn't need to go to everything, to do everything. It was ok to say no. It was ok to prioritise myself occasionally, so that when I was there, I really was there. I practiced being in the now, and it's something that really does take a lot of practice. What this resulted in was these episodes of difficult feelings became shorter and shorter. What had previously been a two-week or more chasm ahead, became a series of minutes. Right now, to right now, to right now again.

Not only does this feel lighter and more approachable, it also means that when right now is hard, it’s just now, it’s not the whole holiday or forever. If we revisit the Mindfulness analogy that our emotions are like the weather patterns; when we can be aware of them and view them, accept them just as they are right now, we gain the opportunity to watch them as they change around us, as one emotion subtly starts to shift into another. It removes this permanence that can feel so grinding and so discouraging.

Seek the fun, seek the joy – find the little things. I have three Minions that sit on top of my kitchen cupboards, bought for me as gifts by my husband, to make me laugh. They do. And they lightened celebration days that I had predicted was going to be hard and heavy. Find one little thing that can make you smile, even if just briefly, it starts to flex that muscle.

When we can look about us and count the good, when we can move to accept the place we are at right now, and when we can share this with those nearest to us; then we have already taken important steps forward. It's not easy, no point me saying it is, you already know it isn't, but it is achievable. Sending you strength, joy and kindness as we head into it.

If you are in a place to move forward and if you are curious about how I can work with you , you can speak to me directly, you can book a free initial 30 minute coaching session with me here and there's no hassling from me if it's a no thanks after that.

Join the crowd to be first to receive fresh perspectives from the weekly blog, and exclusive access to offers & free resources via the quarterly newsletter. Sign me up.

And remember, if you are overwhelmed, please ask for help – your GP, a therapist, the Samaritans on 116 123. You are not alone.

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