The holiday season has begun, dear ones. Thanksgiving was just a few days ago, and for those of us living in Milan, we’re going to have holidays again in a few days (S. Ambrogio) and then… Christmas time. When December kicks in we all feel like Christmas is here and the whole month is all about that.
But. Holidays can bring up a lot of big emotions.
Spending a lot of time with families, which is usually what happens during this time of year, can easily bring up issues about the past. Does it ring a bell? I once read something along the lines of: “Do you think you’re wise? Go spend a week with your parents” and this is so, so true. I am sure most of us can relate. Old memories and unpleasant feelings can get triggered once you hear that same sentence your mum has been telling you over and over again, or when your aunt asks you why you aren’t married yet or your dad argues about your choice of going vegan.
Spending holidays far from home and family, which can happen among expats, can be pretty challenging, too. The reasons are different but the whole thing can make us feel isolated and lonely. We might feel like we don’t have a choice about it, we might start questioning our decisions and values.
Isolation and disconnection are common feelings this time of year. Actually they are very common all year round especially in today’s modern civilized societies. But let’s focus on Christmas for now. If there’s a very delicate period, this is it, whether you’re spending your time with family or not. The whole world is celebrating love and connection and we might be feeling lonely for whatever reason or facing challenges in our lives that prevent us from really enjoying the holidays and the time for celebration that they are meant to be. Psychologists often find that people ask for help more this time of year then they normally do. “This time of year everyone freaks out,” wrote yoga teacher Tara Stiles.
If we are lucky enough to be carefree we might still get easily caught up in the crazy shopping race for presents and forget about why we do it. Is it because giving to others fills us with joy or is it because that’s how things work?
Rituals have always been essential to humans since the very beginning. They serve many good purposes, such as creating communion, belonging and a sense of security. The flip side is, rituals can also become mindless and stressful if they are just imposed on us and we don’t get their meaning. “If we aren’t mindful and just blindly accept them, rituals that once brought joy can now create stress,” says Dr. Deb Kern.
So here are a few tips we should practice when faced with some stressful aspect of the holidays:
Then ask: Why am I doing this or buying this? Is it necessary? Does the act of doing it bring me peace and joy? Does it serve a high purpose? Will it cause any sort of problems down the road?
Listen. Sometimes the answer is simple or even obvious. Other times it takes time, silence, meditation or any tool you use to get clear. Listening to how it feels in your body always helps. Our bodies know before our minds do. You can also ask yourself: when I think of going there/buying this/doing that, does it feel light? Or heavy? (very wise question, courtesy of Danielle LaPorte).
Take action. When you have your answer, you can then act accordingly and remain true to yourself. Just be kind to all when you communicate your decision, kindness makes everything better.
As we all wind down the year I hope you’ll give it a try and do your best to soften, connect inward, move easier in life. Reminding ourselves that we are free allows us to take responsibility, make better choices and connect with those around us in meaningful, not obligated ways. Let’s use these holidays to chill and take care and repair to be effective of course, but let’s not lose sight of the good we have inside so that we can share it with others.
Dr. Simona Rao
Psychologist, Art therapist