You are putting up holiday decorations and instead of feeling happy, you feel sad and depressed. Holidays can be stressful – not only because of all the extra demands on our time, but because sometimes they represent a painful past; a loss of someone we shared our life, a childhood we never had or a life filled with pain and disappointment.
Emotions – sometimes we wish we didn’t feel so much. We medicate ourselves with drugs or alcohol or endless shopping sprees to dull the ache. We lose ourselves in parties rather than enjoying friendships. We push away feelings of sadness or try to run away from them. But deep inside a tiny voice pleads, “I am tired of feeling sad. I want to feel peace and happiness. I want to experience that childlike wonder of expectation and anticipation this Christmas.”
How do we get beyond old painful feelings that are triggered this time of year?
1. Allow yourself to feel. Walling off, pushing away or somehow trying to contain our past can be stressful and exhausting. Only when we work through painful issues can we be free from their grip. If you continue to experience intrusive emotions from your past, gift yourself time with a good therapist who can help you process the pain so you can move on.
2. Acceptance. The losses from our past continue to haunt us because we have not accepted them. Acceptance stops the cycle of resistance, resentment, anger and helplessness. While the losses in our life will always be a defining part of who we are, grieving allows painful memories to heal.
3. Focus on blessings. Even in the darkest of times when we are struggling to survive, there are things to be thankful for. Focusing on blessings changes our internal chemical system allowing us to respond differently to life. Thankfulness releases new energy.
4. Reach out. It has been said many times, but we need to be reminded again and again that when we reach out to others in need we feel better. Reaching out puts a new perspective on our own troubles. And it takes so little time and effort. A smile and empathy for the frazzled clerk, choosing not to get angry or grumpy when standing in long lines, giving grace to others who are having a tough day are small ways we can reach out that don’t cost a penny.
5. Stay in the here and now. When you become aware your thoughts are constantly tuning into the negative, tell yourself “stop.” Listening to old negative messages from the past is a habit. We can choose to shut off our internal critic. You are in charge of the control button.
Christmas is a time to rejoice in a new beginning. It is the time a Savior was born and in Him we find the peace and healing that our heart longs for. He came because He loves us. Reach out and take His healing grace and allow Him to be a part of your daily life.
©Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC