It’s a wonderful contrast, this time of year. Everything around us is shouting of joy, peace and cheer.
But does anyone notice the proliferation of depression, of stress? Is it any wonder the incidence of drinking to relax increases?
What if those feelings had a different purpose than we thought?
I have an idea that dark cloud of depression that can roll in as we grow close to the holidays is really just a coping mechanism, “cover” if you will, holding down a building tension of guilt, stress, and anger like a giant lid so that it doesn’t explode forth, taking casualties, leaving behind a mess of regret.
I remember a Christmas eve night years ago, alone with my two, small children, little more than $10 to my name, I sat in a Taco Bell, tears leaking down my face as my kids laughed and ate their burritos.
I felt guilty that I couldn’t be the superwoman I thought I should be, that I wasn’t yet able to do the impossible that I thought was necessary to restore my small family to a better quality of life than living week to week. I felt financial, ex-marital, and holiday stress combined to an extreme. And I felt so angry I could barely unclench my hands from the balls they would form as if of their own accord.
Awareness of my feelings led me a deeper awareness of those around me.
Looking back, my children now graceful and confident teens, I see the situation differently than I did then. Then, I could only see my suffering.
But now, I see a woman who’s guilt was trying to wake her up to the strength of purpose that wanted to step up and lead, a stress that wanted to alert her to value and place a priority on caring for her body and needs to last out the long run, and an ager that wanted to assert the boundaries that would create true safety, security and well being for her children.
…which led to new choices in actions…
Despite knowing mentally, that my emotions can provide much needed and useful guidance in situations, and can even help me shift my situations to what I do want, I can still find myself, initially, in resistance of such emotions as sadness, anger, guilt, jealousy, or overwhelm, especially at this time of year when it’s even easier to react to my expectations or unhealed hurts and disappointments from the past.
It’s the skills I learned as I confronted and worked with those emotions that still serve me today when strong feelings come up. Many are the same skills I teach or use working with my clients.
The best time to learn how to work with your emotions is when you’re smack dab in the middle of feeling them. And the holidays are the perfect time to use what’s showing up in your life to learn how to use those emotions in ways that can take you to new territory, using new equipment.
…so I didn’t miss new opportunities.
A final note, I almost missed the delight and joy my children were experiencing on the Christmas eve, for being swept up, resisting the suffering I was experiencing; almost but not quite. I didn’t yet have the skill set to utilize the guidance of my emotions, but intuitively, I did follow an urge to “look up and pay attention to what was right before me eyes”. Their smiles, their laughter, their beautiful shining faces, all these were beaming forth as we ate our humble burritos and took a leisurely walk around Pepper Drive, where 10 blocks of neighbors decorate with lights like no where else around. They didn’t want packages. They wanted my attention. They wanted to share their experience with me. They wanted to walk hand in hand, it was that simple.
Each year this time, I’m thankful that I didn’t miss it. And I’m thankful for every year’s work since I’ve devoted to learning about how to use my emotional guidance system because it allows me to enjoy a holiday with my family that is truly a time of peace, joy and cheer!
I wish you all a day, a week, a month, a new year of what you wish for most for yourself. May you enjoy this time of year and those around you. May your insight and awareness lead to an expanded experience of life. Best wishes, Deborah
Every year I hear at least one report of how the holidays can be a lonely or stressful time for some people (maybe even most). I’ve seen this in my coaching practice, among friends and in my own life, especially as the roles of life shift from child to single, to couple, to parent, to empty nest, to retired.
Each place in life offers it’s unique gift and challenges. This seems to be heightened during the end of the year, the new year, and the holidays.
It strikes me that most, if not all of the stress, loneliness, and disappointment that is glossed over during the holidays can be traced back to our expectations, those pesky ideas, beliefs, and stories we carry, often somewhat hidden, that say “it should be this way”.
I’ve shared a bit here of my own expectations that I grew up with; that “everyone should be happy”. But I’ve heard of others:
“everything should be beautiful”
“everything has to be special”
“everything should be bigger and better”
“I have to make everyone happy”
“no one should feel left out”
“we have to follow the tradition”
“I have to find the perfect gift”
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting beauty, specialness, happiness, traditions, at this time of year.
But why do we want it? What is it we’re really wanting?
I’ve found that when I work, and fight, and fret over the “thing”; the lights, the meal, the gift, getting somewhere at a certain time, I feel stressed, unhappy, often even to the point of getting ill.
But when I take just a bit of time to determine what I’m really wanting; love, closeness, joy, maybe a bit of magic, then experiencing those qualities becomes a real possibility because I’m looking for how, in that moment or that situation I can experience that quality, not some “thing” that I hope will “give me” that quality.
Self-coaching can be about tackling smaller situations and bringing fresh awareness, curiosity, creativity to them, changing our experience from one of habit and obligation, to that which brings us more aliveness and warmth.
If you catch yourself feeling stressed, depressed, or disappointed during the holidays, try this and see if you can’t shift yourself to a better feeling place:
Ask yourself, what is it I really, really want right now?
What do I need right now, this moment?
Often, just these simple questions can help get you shifted toward thinking in the direction that can help you create what you want and need, because we’ve been conditioned to think about what’s wrong, and run those old expectations, rather then point our oh-so-powerful-brains in the direction of clarity about what we really want and how to create it for ourselves.
May your holidays nourish you,
P.S. The early bird discount for the Getting To YES, Now! Course ends January 2, 2011. If you want more “yes” on the outside, I can help you up your inside “yes” game so you’re open to receiving.
This year my daughter sat me down to have a very pointed “heart-to-heart” regarding the holidays. Quite sincerely she shared a loneliness and sadness she was feeling about this supposed-to-be-oh-so-joyful-time-of-year. She had been feeling she was the only one looking forward to, and participating in, the festivities for the holidays.
She was hesitant to say anything; she knows I’m juggling the roles of mother, father, teacher, housekeeper and zookeeper. The holidays add another component on top of a full plate, and the voice of Ebenezer Scrooge becomes my holiday companion; work, work, work.
But her courage to be open and share what she was experiencing was the best gift I’ve received this season, because it woke me up.
During some quiet time this last weekend, I bravely settled in for some introspection. What surfaced was painful, memories from my own holidays. Something flipped for me when I turned 13, my mother was diagnosed with Cancer and our family holidays became about proving things were OK and that we were happy, as opposed to actually feeling that emotion.
My children are at that age now, where they are no longer dazzled by the motions; pretty wrapping and lights. They want the real deal, the feeling and connections beneath the trappings.
My pain, year after year, has been there beneath the heavy blanket of my resistance to fully engage with this time of year. My own self coaching has taught me that transformation happens more easily for me if I engage with others, make it into a project I can work on with someone else.
So I went back to my son and daughter, explained briefly what I had discovered and asked them if they would be willing to support me in experimenting with engaging more experimentally, relearning my way around the holidays.
On the outside, it doesn’t look that much different. We still put up lights, we’ve made cookies. But the experience is different, have no doubt. I can feel the hesitation, the temptation to pull back and dull the activities of the season out of habit. And I can feel the desire and the commitment to learn how to be truly present and within the actual moments of this time of year. Front and center!
P.S. Everything I’m learning for myself, is simply challenging me to further hone my upcoming Getting To YES, Now! course. Early bird ends January 2, 2011.