Studio 5 Clinical Psychologist Dr. Liz Hales helps us cope with the “before-and-after holiday haze.”
So here’s the question: Is it best to deal with this very real “happy-holiday-pressure” by grinning and bearing through it, or do we need to give-in to the unrealistic expectations and allow ourselves to be down if we’re truly feeling that way?
I would say “Yes” and “Yes!” Going through the motions is not a bad way to create an alteration in feelings. Change your behaviors and your feelings will follow. Show up to the family or neighborhood get-together. Participate, share, give, connect – before you know it, there will more than likely be a smile on your face! (Stranger things have happened!)
However, forcing yourself to feel a certain way is not useful. Feelings are feelings; now, we don’t need to give them a lot of power but a fair amount of attention is insightful. Allow yourself to cry if, once, again, you’re without a significant other during the holidays, or a loved one is gone, or a child is ill, or money is tight. First things first – feel and express the distress – freeing yourself to eventually move upward and onward.
BROOKE: You warn us about the tendency to go all-or-nothing.
AVOID EXTREMES/ ALLOW AVERAGES
It’s important to avoid the tendency to go all-or-nothing. Perhaps avoiding the extremes in either direction is a good rule of thumb no matter what issue in life we’re examining. Here’s where we usually get into trouble through the holidays: trying to make this “the best holiday ever” or, its complete opposite, pulling the covers over our head and holding a holiday hiatus.
Everyone feels some sort of letdown after such big events, and it isn’t always because the holiday didn’t go well. That “let down” feeling may be nothing more than your body’s need to relax and recuperate after a busy and hectic schedule.
LET DOWN = CALM DOWN
Our let downs should signal us to calm down and take some time for R & R. Celebrations are stressful! There are positive stressors as well as the negative stressors and often they are one in the same. For example: family get-togethers are blessed and wonderful until one adult corrects another adult’s small child and someone gets offended. Gift exchanging can be generous and exciting until someone feels that the “exchange” is not very equal and they came out with the short end of the stick – or, they feel embarrassed that they didn’t give enough! Parties and fun evenings are colorful and entertaining but are often followed by fatigue, change in sleeping routines, and feeling behind more than ever that you just can’t get everyone and everything in!
Allow the let down to be a time for calming down. The body needs a chance to recover from the positive and negative stressors. Without a resting period, we are more susceptive to emotional tension and physical illness.
January has got to be one of the worst months for many people. The stress of going back to work and getting kids back to school seems doubly hard on the heels of the let down. Along with the return to routine comes heaps of bills to pay as well as the reality of diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder which research has shown affects 10% of our population! It’s interesting to note that the time between Thanksgiving and New Years occurs during the time of year when there are the fewest number of daylight hours. This is even more reason to load the tree and the home with lights!
MOTION THE EMOTIONS
The most important thing to do with our emotions is to give them motion. You tire of hearing it, you’re bored with me saying it, but putting our body in motion is the best way to deal with any emotion. Regular physical activity releases endorphins and alters chemicals in the brain that give you an overall sense of wellbeing. And it doesn’t have to be brutal! As a matter of fact, I’d recommend that it not be! Dance in the living room with the kids, take the stairs at the nearest outdoor stadium, or hit the mall with your tennis shoes on and don’t stop to shop. Perhaps this is the year to take up skiing or ice skating or another winter sport that helps you embrace not absolve the colder months.
PONDER, PLAN & PREPARE
Try to look ahead and make plans in January to get together with friends who we weren‘t able to see before the holidays, or treat ourselves to a manicure, and renew some goals for 2009. Moving ahead is one of the best plans for dealing with the blues.
We all need something to look forward to. Whether it is a lunch date with a girlfriend, hope for a new job, throwing a super bowl party, shopping the after-Christmas sales to be better prepared and decorated for next year…looking ahead is key. Particularly if you are disappointed with how the holidays went this year, for whatever reason, start making plans for next year about how you will make it more enjoyable or meaningful for you and your family. Give everyone enough time to climb on board with your new ideas and set in motion new traditions or plans that will leave you feeling more satisfied. Every experience, holiday, or disappointment teaches us about ourselves and our movement through life stages. Change is inevitable; change is hopeful.
Our lives consist of more than the month between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. The richness and complexity of life happens every day. Embrace it! New Years is a reminder that, with every ending, there is a new beginning. Welcome it!
Dr. Liz Hale is a licensed clinical psychologist and a regular Studio 5 Contributor. Your comments and questions are welcomed! Please visit www.drlizhale.com to add your thoughts to today’s discussion or learn more about her private practice.