By Chay Tanchanco, LMFT
Feeling blue this holiday season?
You aren’t alone.
The holidays bring up many different emotions, and it can be difficult to figure out where one even begins or ends. It’s a busy time, a time filled with expectations and traditions, and we often feel overwhelmed or find ourselves clashing with family or friends (or avoiding them entirely). [stats on anxiety/depression during holiday?]
If you’re experiencing these issues, it may be of no surprise to you that it is yet another indicator of your current mental health. If you’re burned out at your job or feeling particularly sensitive about your spouse or your finances or other circumstances that feel beyond your control, it may be affecting other areas of your life or reflecting on those who know how to push our buttons.
So what can we do?
Your Brain is Always Trying to Be Helpful
This isn’t exactly a task, it’s more of a mindset. I cannot state this enough times to everyone in the world: whatever your brain is doing without your awareness, it is trying to help you survive. It may seem like a terrible coping strategy to overthink scenarios to the point of exhaustion and overwhelm, or shouting at drivers, or arguing constantly with your kids or your partner, or laying in bed procrastinating until it’s too late to do your work---and it’s true, there are better ways to handle stress. However, to your brain’s current knowledge, it is trying to help.
Why is this important?
We often compound our initial emotion (sadness, fear) with a secondary emotion, usually guilt or self-loathing or worthlessness.
When we are caught in guilt, it is often easy to get lost in justifying further “punishment” for ourselves or feeling like we deserve the consequences of our actions. Whatever your moral code may be, ultimately, we want to get out of these patterns of thinking so that we can change our behaviors. If wallowing in large amounts of guilt truly helped us, we wouldn’t be sitting in it for so long.
If we understand our brain’s intention to help, we can address the initial emotion and work together with our brain to solve our own problems.
Set an Intention to Be Intentional
I often talk to clients about feeling ‘out of control’. Our society is so high-paced that it is often all our brains can do but to run on auto-pilot more often than not, we’d lose too much precious “productivity” time if we were slowly making every decision.
However, being on auto-pilot for long periods of time without giving ourselves some agency will leave us feeling like robots or empty shells.
When we “set our intention”, it’s like putting on a pair of different colored glasses or sunglasses---it alters how we see the world so that we can navigate it more easily. If the sun is too bright, it will damage our eyes and make it difficult to see. If we wear sunglasses, it will help filter out the brightness. Setting our intention (for example, “I am going to take 30 minutes for myself today”) is a great way to take back the agency in our lives, to slow down, and to give ourselves the space to attune with our own needs.
Know Your Limits and Set Them
It can be hard for a lot of us to say “no”, especially when we are expected to be (or at least we think we have to be..) “merry and bright”, and social. Obligation is a difficult hurdle to jump, and oftentimes we can feel overwhelmed with all of them at once. Setting limits on your time or choosing the most important events can alleviate a lot of stress. As much as we want to spend time with family and friends, if we are feeling irritable or anxious, giving ourselves space to take a breath can be the gift they didn’t know they needed.
Connect to Your Support Systems
What if I don’t know what my needs are? I’m too overwhelmed, too wrapped up in everything!
Look no further than your friends and communities of support. Text a friend or give them a call. Make plans to do something soothing, nurturing, relaxing, or physically regenerative together. Find a community holiday gathering or volunteer service and join in. If you are feeling lost or stuck, having some much needed reconnection with someone who loves you, sees your strengths and weaknesses, and can offer you a listening ear and refreshing insight may be the warmth you need to thaw the holiday blues.