Whoever has never felt uncomfortable around this time of year, cast the first stone!
Yes, I know it's almost impossible not to be charmed by the bright lights all over the city, food that feels like a hug, and inspiring music playing on a loop everywhere we go, trying to plant seeds of love, joy, and hope for the upcoming year in our hearts.
I’m sure you have fond memories of Christmas or New Years’. On the other hand, I bet you also have not-so-good ones.
At this time of year, more than any other, it’s natural for us to look back on our lives, putting into perspective everything we have achieved (or haven’t) so far, self-evaluating ourselves and deciding whether we were ‘good or naughty’, while we wait in long lines, inside crowded malls, making decisions about gifts (often for not-so-nice people) that we don’t really want to make.
As if that weren't enough, in times like these we are constantly reminded (if not questioned) about things that have been dormant or that we simply don’t have answers for - like the famous case of that one relative who always asks about our love life - forcing us to recruit all that is left of our best social skills and go, ready or not, to the battlefield - I mean, the dinner table.
The truth is that holidays have a not-so-glamorous side, different from what Christmas advertisements and movies would like us to believe. Feelings of inadequacy and insufficiency break records in conversations among friends and coworkers, and many of us feel really triggered and overwhelmed by all of it.
This turns out to be an ambiguous time, with many positive feelings of hope, love, and union, but also prone to chronic stress.
So yes, the end of the year has its beauty, but it can also flood us with difficult feelings and situations, and especially for those who are going through or still processing grief or a traumatic situation, this intensifies. I leave here all my love and care, your struggle is seen and valid. Here's a little guide with 5 tips to help you get through this sometimes chaotic period and make it to 2023 safe and sound.
Tip 1: Self-analyze
Self-analyze yourself (if you don't do it already with the help of a psychologist) and map out your possible triggers, very calmly and self-compassionately. You can't control the external variables, but you can choose how you face it. “If x happens, how could I tackle it?” For instance, if I’m asked what I feel is an inappropriate question, I can simply say "I don't think this is the right/appropriate time to talk about it" or the classy and honest "I don't feel comfortable with this, can we change the subject?". If someone can't be empathetic and respectful enough after your humble request, you are allowed to just leave the room (yes, really!).
Tip 2: Prioritize yourself
Don't try to be someone you are not or demonstrate something you are not feeling. In other words, don't try to please other people just because. Especially if you’re not feeling well. It's unfair to yourself. Following up to tip number 1, think about how you can make yourself as comfortable as possible. Wear an outfit that really makes you feel good, eat whatever you feel comfortable with. And if, in the worst-case scenario, it is too unbearable for you to face a family reunion or company party, don't force yourself to go. Just say ‘thank you’ and communicate that this is what you need right now.
Holidays can be intense, and this is not the time to try to face our problems at any cost. You might be thinking "Oh but saying ‘no’ always creates bigger problems in these situations”. Well, maybe, but only in dysfunctional environments and relationships. Healthy boundaries are essential to our well-being.
Tip 3: Don’t isolate yourself
Whatever you are feeling, don't go through it alone, and don't isolate yourself, even if you consider yourself an introvert. There are many ways nowadays to feel connected to someone even if not physically.
With all the emotional overload that this moment can bring, trying to handle it all alone is the perfect recipe for frustration. It is scientifically proven that letting off steam or being with someone you trust increases our dopamine levels and is very positive for our mental health, thus helping us find healthier ways to deal with adversity. Having spaces where you feel safe to be vulnerable - because, in the end, we all are - is vital. It's not about quantity, it's about quality. Try to be close to those who really make you feel, if not fully understood, at least welcomed (and this tip is valid for the whole year).
Extra tip: it can be interesting to look for groups of people that share your outlook or feelings on the internet, or even therapeutic groups near you. Looking for similarities increases our sense of belonging and greatly strengthens our self-esteem.
Tip 4: Know how to calm yourself down
We need to talk about actual anxiety crises. It's uncomfortable, I know, but ignoring it doesn't help us at all.
If it does happen, do you know what works for you? What at least calms you down in moments like these?
It is important to keep in mind at least 3 things you can do to calm yourself down. What helps me a lot and I highly recommend is to focus on the present moment, either by focusing on your breath for at least 2 minutes (inhale for 3 seconds, hold for 4, and slowly exhale for 5), or by describing things in your environment from the 5 senses, known as a grounding technique, for example: "I see a blue chair, I smell coffee, I hear laughter" and so on.
Allow yourself to dig deeper with curiosity until you find what makes sense and works best for you.
Tip number 5: Reframe the season
Last but not least, try to associate pleasurable things with this moment and, slowly but surely, allowing yourself to create new memories, feelings, and even new traditions with your loved ones. Reframing is frequently the key!
That’s all, folks! I hope these tips help you navigate through the holiday season. Do keep this in mind: the right time to take care of yourself and your mental health is all year round!