Updated: Dec 9, 2021
The holidays may serve different purposes, dependent on your family, cultural, religious, or personal traditions. It can also be a difficult time for individuals who are entangled in the threads of loneliness and isolation during the holiday season. Given the pressure of safety in the last two years, these patterns may lead to long periods of depression and anxiety about leaving home, participating in family activities, or being around others in your life.
I wanted to take an opportunity to share some of the insight I've learned and gained from my experience as a mental health counselor. Working with individuals and couples within the last two years, we've seen the struggles of depression and anxiety create barriers in the lives of many people who once felt more motivated, loved, and capable in the endeavors of their lives. In that sense, it can be rather difficult to determine your emotional needs when you're isolated or alone during these difficult times.
If you're feeling isolated or alone during the holiday season, here are some suggestions for overcoming some of the winter blues that you may be enduring over the course of the next few months:
Create a Tradition: Ever thought about creating your own tradition? When you create, you activate various networks of the brain that deal with imagination and innovation. Creating traditions can establish new ways to stimulate your brain and bring warmth to an otherwise cold season in your life. Whether your traditions involve different art mediums (painting, sculpting, writing, etc.) or activities with people in your life, it's important to make space to engage with the things you love. When you do this, and you share your traditions with others in your life, you find stimulation and connection - valuable pieces to a healthy, functional life.
Holiday Meditation: Studies surrounding chronic stress, a condition that effects a large part of the general population, show significant decreases in physical stress symptoms when individuals make time to practice meditation in their daily lives (check out: The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion by Christopher Germer, PhD). Try making space for a holiday meditative practice on the days when the blues start to hit you, when you see yourself begin to isolate, pull away, or shut down from the reality beginning to set in:
The holidays can bring stress into our lives. Take a moment to breathe. (3-5 deep in & out breaths). Set your intention for the holidays, what you need from a difficult season in your life. Breathe in that intention & breathe out the stress that you're feeling in that moment (If you can determine the stress, you can determine if you can handle the stress alone, or if you'll need support to overcome it).
Check in with your body. Are you feeling any significant stress in your body? Building awareness around the intention, the stressors in the season, and then your physical discomfort, will help you overcome a great deal of the burden that you're carrying. Make note in your mind of the pain, and then move back into the breathing (take 3-5 more deep breaths).
What happens when you begin thinking about the holiday season? Are you catching anything significant come up when you think about the holidays? Emotionally, are there any significant reactions or responses that start to happen in your mind or body? You can begin to take account of the feelings that come up for you here (sadness, hurt, fear, shame, loneliness).
Now that you've caught your emotions, move back into breathing, the thing you have the capacity to control right now.
Begin to think about someone you love or care about in your life (whoever comes to mind). What feeling does this emote inside of you?
Move to focus in on you now. Begin to breathe in that feeling, continuing to breathe out the stress (3-5 long, deep breaths).
Catch whatever comes up for you in these moments, you will be able to make note of these barriers or thoughts afterwards. And then you will be able to reach out to the person you love or care about and process this with them.
Finish by thanking yourself for making time for you, the stress, and the intentions you have set for the season.
Sending Love: If setting up your own traditions, or following a meditative holiday practice, brings a great deal of discomfort, trying determining a way to send love to those around you. When you're anxious, isolated, and/or alone, it can be hard to imagine how you'll make time for others, including yourself. You can send Christmas cards to those you love, send a message to someone you have been longing to reach to or talk to again, or make space to show gratitude to someone who is accessible to you. I can't tell you how great it feels to hug someone, say thank you to someone who does something nice for you, or just show appreciation to someone who is just doing great in their job.
And, I'll always make space to say how amazing it might be to try your hand at counseling during this difficult period in your life. Sometimes having someone with an objective view of your life will bring a new level of awareness to things of great value in your life. If you're struggling, and you're finding it difficult to turn to someone else for support - maybe you're trapped in your mind or heart when it comes to the suggestions we've offered above - please remember that you're not alone, and sometimes it takes a risk to find someone like a counselor who will be a safe, secure place for you to work through these difficult discomforts.
We wish each and every one of you a very happy holidays. Wherever, however, whenever you're celebrating, keep in mind the capacity you have to work through the difficult things that we find ourselves working through at various times in our lives.