As we arrive in the holiday season we journey through a powerful emotional experience. While the magic of the holidays can be a wonderful time, most of us do not experience bliss at every step of the journey. There are often emotional highs and lows experienced throughout the season. We can experience intense joy and gratitude as we spend time with loved ones, give or receive gifts or partake in holiday festivities and traditions. Stress and anxiety tend to be a part of the journey as our to-do lists triple in length, we scuffle with the crowds or we attend social gatherings in less than comfortable situations. Depression, sadness and agitation are also common feelings we experience as we miss loved ones, we yearn for healthier relationships or we are just overwhelmed.
All of these emotions can come and go throughout the holiday season yet some may want to stay and take the driver’s seat. Many of the emotions we experience have a long history and are attached to distant memories, relationships or traditions. Some are emotions that are connected to new events or experiences and may be spontaneous and surprising. When we become aware of our more common emotional reactions, we can learn to anticipate the emotions we may encounter and prepare for the experience.
Anticipation can be one of the most valuable tools in preparing yourself for the holidays. It only takes a few quiet moments to take inventory of how you envision your holiday season and which emotions you are likely to experience. You can anticipate events, relationships or experiences that are likely to evoke certain emotions, ranging from disappointment to anger, stress to anxiety, sadness to despair or even contentment to joy. Now that you have identified the likely triggers you can begin to prepare for the experience.
Preparing for emotional experiences, especially unpleasant ones, lessens the intensity of the emotion and the power it may have over us. It allows us the ability to accept the likely feeling, bringing it on our journey with us but not allowing it to take over our experience.
Here are some examples to help get you started:
You recently lost your grandmother and this will be the first holiday season without her. Anticipate that you are going to miss her, especially during special traditions. This anticipation can allow you to accept feeling sad about your loss. Mindful acknowledgement that tears may flow and this season may feel different, gives you permission to accept the emotions as a part of this holiday season (whether you plan the season as you always have or you alter traditions).
Every year you dread spending time with Uncle Ed because he drinks too much and over- criticizes everything. You usually spend weeks worrying about him coming and silently hoping he won’t be the same this holiday. This year you take emotional inventory and realize how much time you spend worrying about his actions and hoping he will change. As you prepare for this anticipated experience you will no longer hope he will change his actions but accept they will be the same. You can accept that he will likely irritate or frustrate you but it does not have to take the joy out of your holiday. You can also plan various ways of limiting interactions with him or how to protect your mind from personalizing his criticisms. It becomes easier to manage your emotional reaction when you think “well, there goes Uncle Ed again” rather than “I can’t believe he is starting to act this way again!”
Traffic is a trigger that often upsets you. Take one minute before driving the car to acknowledge you are likely to experience traffic and non-courteous drivers. You can then accept you will likely feel frustrated. You don’t have to like this feeling but acknowledging it ahead of time will help to minimize its intensity. Try to plan ahead for longer commutes and set yourself a goal of protecting yourself from careless drivers while listening to your favorite music.
Shifting Our Language
You are able to prepare yourself for anticipated emotional reactions, by acknowledging you are likely to experience them and accept they will be a part of your journey. You can plan to allow them as a passenger on your journey but they don’t need to take control of the driver’s seat.
Making slight changes to the language we use can assist us in this acceptance:
“It’s going to be a different holiday this year” rather than “This is going to be a hard year”
“When my child has a meltdown half way through opening presents at grandma’s house, I’ll let everyone know we need to take a short break” rather than “I’m worried little Sammy is going to be disruptive.”
“The mall is going to be really crowded so I may not be able to get everything finished” rather than “I hope it won’t be crowded or else I’ll never get everything finished.”
When we are able to prepare for an emotional reaction, and change some of the language we use about the anticipated experience, we are less likely to get taken by surprise. We feel stronger and calmer about the anticipated experience and we are more likely to accept the emotion as part of our journey.
Wishing you contentment in your emotional journey this holiday season.