Here in the US it is Thanksgiving Week. There are many, many things for which I am grateful beyond words, but this isn’t a post about gratitude. It’s about being depressed or saddened during the holidays.
The holidays can be stressful for those people who believe the holiday is about what celebrations should be like, for people who cannot be with loved ones, for people who have had a personal loss, and for people who are feeling lonely.
If you are among those who are struggling with personal challenges or losses, remember it’s important to take care of yourself.
Self-care is not one thing. It doesn’t have to take money, or lots of time, or be a specific thing. It is the little things you do to look after your own mental health. It’s about being aware of our emotions, our feelings, and our needs.
Material needs can be and often are important, but those aren’t the needs I’m talking about. I’m talking about internal needs, mental health needs. But to give yourself that kind of self-care, you need to understand a few things.
Don’t Avoid Your Emotions
We human beings tend to avoid unpleasant emotions. We stuff them, ignore them, hide them, bury them, and pretend they aren’t there or they aren’t real. But suppressing our emotions can lead to physical and mental health problems.
The Difference Between Emotions and Feelings
Many of us use the terms emotions and feelings interchangeably. But the two words do not mean the same thing. Emotions are real-time, physiological reactions to our environment. Our emotions influence our feelings, but we interpret them based on stories we tell ourselves, our experiences, and our likes and dislikes.
Confused? Let’s take the example of two different people going to a party. Both people experience their stomachs tightening and their breathing getting more rapid and shallow. One of those people labels those physical symptoms as awkwardness because they don’t know many other people at the party. The other person labels those symptoms as excitement because they are eager to meet new people.
Paying attention to our bodily reactions helps us connect to the reality of the moment rather than the stories we tell ourselves.
Emotions Communicate Information
Emotions are physiological states that give us important information about our internal and external environment. That information motivates us to do something.
Anger signals a boundary, value, or rule has been violated and drives us to attack. Fear signals a threat or danger and causes us to freeze or flee. Shame signals low social status and makes us hide. Guilt is triggered by remorse and mobilizes us to make amends. Joy signals reward and motivates us to approach and engage.
Are Feelings Invalid?
Feelings are. No matter how well we understand the difference between emotions and feelings, we will still have feelings. Only you can decide if your feelings are a lie your brain is telling you. Give yourself ten-minutes to feel whatever you’re feeling. If you feel sad, cry. If you are angry, find a safe way to express your anger (punching a pillow, screaming, etc.). Then, use the information you’ve gotten from your emotions and feelings.
How to Use Your Emotions and Feelings
Check in with your body. What is it telling you? Check in with your memories. Is there something from your past that is influencing how you feel? Be honest with yourself.
Use the information you gain from your new awareness. Are your needs right now emotional, physical, or practical? What can you do within your power that will make you feel better? Notice, I didn’t say feel good. You may not be able to get to such a positive place. Feeling a little better is good enough. The more often you can make yourself feel better, the more effective your self-care will be.
Make Your Self-Care Toolbox
Sometimes when you’re feeling down, coming up with self-care ideas seems impossible.
Self-care is different for every person. I will listen to certain music or sit with my dogs. Someone else might take a bubble bath. Another person might go for a run.
Self-care is more than just relaxing. It can be saying no to certain things. Reading a book, taking a walk, journaling, or lighting a candle can be self-care. It is personal. Unique to you.
Make a list of things that give you positive feelings, that help recharge you when you’re feeling drained. Keep that list where you can find it when the holidays are getting you down or stressing you out.
Consider scheduling one of your self-care activities at least once a week.
- Watch a funny movie.
- Buy yourself flowers.
- Cook yourself a lovely meal.
- Create or repeat a ritual that has meaning for you.
- Take a walk.
- Take a drive.
- Listen to music that makes you want to dance.
- Have your favorite beverage and snack.
- Do puzzles.
- Give yourself a manicure.
- Fill your room with a favorite scent (incense, essential oils, flowers, candles, whatever).
Give Yourself Permission to Be Alone
We humans long for intimacy. We want to connect with others. We may even depend on others for intimacy and love. In doing so, we’ve forgotten or never realized the importance of granting intimacy and love to ourselves.
Learning to be comfortable being alone and connected to yourself can be difficult. Yet loving ourselves and granting ourselves the intimacy of our own thoughts is essential to being able to connect to others.
Find Satisfaction Being Alone
Changing your mindset from being alone at the holidays is a sad or bad thing to finding satisfaction or even joy when you are alone can be difficult.
Start small. Set a timer and spend 15 to 30 minutes with your thoughts. Meditate, if that works for you. Sip tea or journal or doodle. If you need your hands to be busy, do a jigsaw puzzle, knit or crochet. Don’t do crossword puzzles or something you have to think about. This is time for you.
Note whatever thoughts and feelings you have without judgement. Remind yourself that you deserve your own attention. You deserve time away from everyone and everything else.
Holidays have a lot of baggage attached to them. Family traditions, co-workers, music, television shows, music and even commercials pound us with expectations for the holidays. Remember, there are no rules. And self-care isn’t being selfish. It’s treating yourself in a kind and caring way.
You have the power to make this holiday season whatever you need it to be.
This blog post originally appeared in 2011 and was reblogged in 2017. In those posts I truthfully wrote, “I have spent holidays mourning and struggling. I have spent holidays alone. It took years before I felt comfortable doing what I needed at those times. I know I would have appreciated a few tips during that time, so I’m offering these few to you.”
Those of you who’ve followed this blog for the past three years know my husband died in 2021. So I am once again alone during the holidays.
Learning to Like Being Alone
Christmas songs and movies still can trigger deep feelings of loss. But they can also trigger cherished memories that make me smile. I value my alone time. I am learning to give myself the love and attention I give to good friends.
I am grateful for the lessons I’ve learned about emotions and feelings. I’m not perfect at it. I still practice being in the moment, being aware of my physical sensations. Sometimes I struggle to understand and accept my feelings. It’s a journey.
My Wish for You
I hope the information in this expanded post will help you be in the moment and help you experience and understand your emotions. Most of all…
Whatever is going on in your life, whatever holidays you celebrate (or don’t celebrate), I hope you find a moment of peace, a moment of gratitude, and a bounty of blessings.
What’s one idea you have for self-care this holiday season?
Both images in this post were purchased from Deposit Photo.