By Chay Tanchanco, LMFT
You’ve probably already had to face the very difficult dilemma during this holiday season: what do we do to celebrate?
Within a year of loss with such magnitude (and COVID numbers continuing to rise), it may be a very emotional decision to say “no” to loved ones as you turn down an invitation. We are wired for connection and taking time away from people we love may be heartbreaking during an already heart-wrenching year.
This is grief on a National scale. You can see forms of denial, anger, sadness, bargaining, and acceptance throughout our culture wherever you look on social media. There is no quick and easy “list” to handle grief, no product to buy to soothe it, no substitute for the fact that our holiday will look very different from its usual festivities.
We can overcome the stress we feel if we name it what it is and face it. Moving through the emotions, rather than avoiding them, and being honest with ourselves about what it is we feel and how meaningful this time is for marking the end of the year, the accomplishments, the pain we have endured and the loss of life.
When we feel connected in our grief to others, we can create new traditions and change our perspectives. Anxiety and depression often come in when their baseline counterparts, fear and sadness, have gone unheard. Fear and sadness are accurate emotions to describe what has happened throughout the year. We are seeking relief, joy, and even a little bit of hope for the days to come. We cannot throw fear and sadness to the wayside, discarding them for what feels “better”.
So how do we move *through* our emotions rather than avoid them?
Give Them a Name
My favorite journaling prompts help organize my thoughts into feelings and what these feelings indicate about my values. Naming the fact that you’re sad about missing out on Thanksgiving with grandma can seem very obvious, but never having written it or said it out loud, you may find that it will begin to shift when you make them more tangible.
Hold On Through the Storm
This is the part that could use a friend or a therapist. Your fears will rise up, your sadness with swirl into a hurricane, and you’ll wonder why you started this stupid process of grieving in the first place. In her book, “Rising Strong”, Brené Brown describes her realization that her research had been focused on the act of vulnerability as only the part where you speak up or do differently than you had before. But there’s another part, the “Act 2” of our story where we are forced to struggle with the unknown and grapple with our fear and anxiety, feeling lost and alone, that we cannot skip.
Without close friends and family around, this step can be especially difficult. But it is likely that your friends and family are feeling similarly. Leaning on each other, even across the distance, can make a huge difference and naming it together will be a huge part of what helps move through the emotions. Express them through movement, music, sound, writing, and creating.
Take the Next Small Step
After a storm, you’re not going to be at 100% capacity. You might not even be at 50%. Take small steps. Look to the moment you are living in now and see what is present. Observe and connect. The days will go on, the holidays will come, and it may be that you find some new discovery or a small comfort in something that felt lost but still remains part of your celebration, even if it’s over Zoom or a drive by food exchange.
Rinse & Repeat
Yes, I wrote a blog that has somewhat of a list for handling the overwhelming feeling of loneliness or things being “not quite right” this holiday season after I said there is no quick and easy list. Though the steps are written concisely, your process deserves the time and effort to be experienced and seen. It may be repeated or done differently for aspects of your season.
Your mental health sets the stage for your life: if you give yourself the chance, it can be the greatest gift you give to yourself and those you love.