With the cold winds and snow on the ground, as well as increasing emails about Christmas gifts ideas, there’s no doubt about it; the Holidays are coming! While this might be a joyous time for many people, the holidays bring out a sense of dread to many others. And in a culture that encourages toxic positivity, feeling anything but excitement and joy might leave you feeling alone, disconnected and like there’s something wrong with you for not looking forward to the holidays. This is an experience I see commonly in my office as a psychologist. For that reason, I give you three little tips to better work with your holiday hate.
Mindfulness is an essential skill in emotion regulation because it allows us to pause and notice what we are experiencing instead of responding to our experience reactively (Hill & Updegraff, 2012). Here, I’m not talking about doing a 5-day silent meditation retreat (but if that’s your jam, go for it)! I’m talking instead about turning your attention towards your dread or hate, without judging, trying to change or run away from it. This can be done by simply turning your attention or writing this down on a piece of paper. Notice the sensations, the thoughts, the memories that emerge when you think about the holidays. Maybe there are other emotions outside of the realm of anger, like sadness, anxiety, guilt, that make their appearance when you start to pay attention. As much as you can, stay with your experience.
One of the biggest challenges with regulating emotions is that we look to fix them or to pretend like they are not there, when they can be incredibly helpful. Emotions are messages (Gilbert, 2015). They respond to what we perceive in our environment and motivate us to do something about it. When we feel anger, dread, sadness or anxiety, we are usually perceiving something as being threatening.. So get curious; what is it about this that I’m perceiving as threatening about the upcoming Holidays?
- Am I feeling pressure to find the perfect gift and am anxious about the impact it will have on my bank account?
- Am I dreading meeting my family members because I’m expecting them to comment on my weight or the fact I’m still single?
- Am I already feeling tired because I know all the responsibility to make the holidays fun and magical will be placed on me?
- Am I uncomfortable with all the materialism on display which contradicts my values?
- Am I sad because the Holidays remind me of that person (or pet) who is no longer by my side?
More often than not, negative emotions signal something important to about our values and our needs. When we ignore our negative emotions, not only do we feel worse (because spoiler alert: our emotions don’t go away!) but we also miss an important opportunity to learn about what matters to us and what we need.
Once you’ve been able to identify the perceived threat as well as the underlying values and needs of your emotions, ask yourself about what you might need. Here are some of the most common types of behaviours which might address your needs.
Need # 1 : Support
Support is usually the first place I encourage my clients to go towards during the holiday funk. There are lots of different ways of getting support which may meet your needs.
- Maybe you need emotional support, like sharing your feelings about the holidays with a partner or close friends. You might not be the only person who feels negatively about the holidays and sharing your experiences might be liberating.
- Maybe you need informational support, like asking you mother-in-law for her turkey recipe, or contacting a financial advisor to make a holiday budget.
- You may also need more practical support in taking over some of the expectations or extra mental load that comes with the holidays.
Need # 2: Boundaries
Boundaries is another big one. Oftentimes we feel angry because we perceive a boundary being crossed. Being clear on the why and then applying a boundary can be extremely helpful. Lots of boundaries exist.
- You can choose to apply a physical boundary, like not going to the 4th Christmas party of the week because you need your rest.
- You might choose to apply a financial boundary, like having a talk with your family members about how much to spend on gifts or maybe only getting second hand gifts.
- You might apply an emotional boundary, like refusing to discuss certain topics, including your weight or your love life.
Explore your options and see what makes most sense to you.
Need # 3: Compassion
We can be so quick to criticize ourselves when we struggle. Instead of engaging in self-loathing, try and think about how you would talk to a good friend. How would you bring about a sense of kindness, of empathy, of understanding for their experience.
Also, can you challenge some of your self-critical thinking? For instance, if your self-critic tells you that you should be alone because you’re such a loser for feeling sad, ask yourself if that’s true. Do people who feel sad deserve to be alone? Is that helpful to them? What would be helpful?
Need # 4: Positive emotions
Where has all the Christmas child-like good times gone? As we grow up and become adults, we often miss out on opportunities for fun and good times in our attempt to run away from negative emotions. Yet, positive experiences are essential to having good mental health and promote resilience (Gloria & Steinhardt, 2016). Instead of trying to stop having negative emotions, find opportunities to bring joy, play, creativity, happiness, gratitude and meaning into your life. This isn’t for the purpose of pretending that the hurt is not present, but to give you other experiences as well, like little “time outs” of the pain. Make time for happiness. Embrace the power of Hygge and make your time extra cozy and heartwarming.
This holiday season, I encourage you to make time to befriend your emotions and give yourself what you truly need. Remember that there’s nothing wrong with feelings of anger, dread and lots of other negative emotions around the holidays. Having a collection of experiences and treating them with kindness, flexibility, curiosity, and addressing underlying needs is what promotes human resilience and well-being.
If you need a little extra help this holiday season, don’t hesitate to reach out! One of our therapists can help you! Check out Uprise Psychology & Wellness’ therapists here!
Hill, C. L. M., & Updegraff, J. A. (2012). Mindfulness and its relationship to emotional regulation. Emotion, 12(1), 81–90. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0026355
Gilbert, P. (2015). An evolutionary approach to emotion in mental health with a focus on affiliative emotions. Emotion Review, 7(3), 230-237. doi: 10.1177/175407391557655
Gloria, C. T., & Steinhardt, M. A. (2016). Relationships among positive emotions, coping, resilience and mental health. Stress and health, 32(2), 145-156. doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/smi.2589
About the Author:
Dr. Melisa Arias-Valenzuela, C. Psych., is a Clinical Psychologist as well as the Founder and Director of Uprise Psychology & Wellness. She completed her doctoral studies at the Université du Québec à Montréal and her thesis focused on understanding how multicultural people identify with their cultural groups and negotiate their cultural differences as well as the repercussions of these processes on their psychological well-being. She works primarily with people struggling with eating disorders, body image concerns and perinatal mental health challenges. Dr. Arias-Valenzuela is trained in CBT as well as Mindfulness, Compassion-based and Positive Psychology approaches and has a special interest and passion for creating safer and more accessible environments for clients and mental health professionals alike. To learn more about Dr. Melisa, click here.