The five-week mega-holiday begins with Christmas in July sales. However, the winter holiday season officially kicks into high gear with Thanksgiving Day in November. This time of year evokes as much joyful anticipation as dread. Sights, sounds, and smells—even traffic lights—seem festive. But the end of daylight savings time (DST) in most states means more hours of darkness at the same time weather conditions turn frigid and snow quickly turns to ice. We look out on bare trees and bushes, gray or white skies, and a stark absence of color. It seems all of nature is in hibernation except us. We get even busier.
The holiday period carries different meanings for all of us. Many people will gather with family and friends they have not seen for almost two years. Some will see their toddler grandchildren, born a year and a half ago, in person for the first time. Others are still unable to be with loved ones. The excitement and pressure of preparing for the holidays may seem overwhelming. Getting through this emotionally-charged time with minimum distress can feel impossible as we try to make our way through the flurry of activity and maintain our emotional stability.
Whatever this time means for you, honoring your feelings and life rhythms can ease the tension. So, how can you get through the season in peace, serenity, and even joy? This time of year is an invitation to honor your grief and to express gratitude for the good in your life. The joy of journaling is an act of self-care. Our foray into winter this year can take on a different meaning, one of deeper reflection and introspection.
The end of daylight savings time (DST) in most states means more hours of darkness at the same time weather conditions turn frigid and snow quickly turns to ice. We look out on bare trees and bushes, gray or white skies, and a stark absence of color. It seems all of nature is in hibernation except us. We get even busier.
Tips to get through this time:
1. Step up your journaling practice.
Write what this time of year means to you. What are you looking forward to? What are you grieving? What do you need or desire?
2. Treat yourself with compassion, gentleness, and celebration.
The tiniest acts of self-compassion and self-love can be the most powerful. While I waited for a friend at a medical appointment, I walked outdoors in refreshing crisp air. Along the way, I picked up beautiful red, gold, and orange fallen leaves, some tiny, dampened with the gentle rain. A goose feather caught my attention and I added it to my leaf collection. These were unexpected gifts.
3. “No” is a complete sentence as well as a right.
As much as possible, create realistic expectations and write them down. Set firm boundaries. Try to engage with others and maintain your own needs for space. Let others know how you feel and what you need. I am an introvert, albeit a gregarious one. Large gatherings—more than five or six people exhaust me quickly and I seek solitude after two-three hours, whether in another room or my car for a few minutes or going home.
4. Write a note or letter to someone else or to yourself expressing your gratitude, grief, anger, thinking of you, forgiveness, or apology.
Send, or not.
5. Get or keep moving—walk, yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, stretch.
Exercise is one of the best ways to fend off gloomy feelings. You can find videos online for whatever exercise you want to do, whether you want a full hour or ten minutes. I found 11-minute seated cardio which is more of a workout than it sounds. Honor the rhythms of your body. Need to let off steam? Try Tae Kwon Do, kickboxing, or screaming.
6. Listen to soothing or energizing music.
Watch funny movies or television shows. Find reasons to smile and laugh. Create and build playlists for music, movies, how-to, and more.
7. Read uplifting, inspiring, comforting books.
Revisit a book of which you have worn off the cover. Open a new book you have been putting off. Journal about what keeps pulling you back to the well-read book and what has kept you from reading the new book. Sit by a window. Light a candle. Play complementary music. The music you choose for a thriller novel may be different from what you choose for a heartwarming memoir.
8. Start new holiday traditions for yourself or your family or friends.
Write a holiday letter to family and friends to share the events of your year and let them know you are thinking of them. Join an ecard platform which lets you list several recipients for the same card or send everyone a different card. Some services allow you to send cards either by email or by text. Mark your calendar to repeat the activity at whatever frequency works for you and them. Create homemade gifts and deliver or ship them.
9. Never underestimate the power of heartfelt gratitude, whether spoken, written, or gestured.
A simple smile or nod of recognition is all someone may need for their day to seem brighter. The act will light up yours, too.
Hopefully, your imaginative juices are bursting forth and you now have other ideas for ways to experience the holidays. Be creative about your approach to the holidays. Whether you enjoy the festivities of the season, you long for a quiet space of respite, or you are somewhere in between, remember the messages of the season—sharing, gratitude, peace, wisdom, and joyful expectancy.
The holidays hold the promise of beauty, wonder, grace, and hope. Take solace in knowing many people grapple with this time of year. There are ways to reach out, to soothe ourselves and each other, to hold the Light of Hope in our awareness, to breathe, just breathe. May this time bring meaning, peace, comfort, gratitude, and joy into your life, however that looks and feels for you.
Billie Wade, a lifelong journaler, believes people are precious, sacred, resilient, and stronger than they know. She created Journaling to Heal, LLC which helps people discover the power of writing in their process of recovery from emotional stress and trauma. Visit her at www.billiewade.com and find more of her writing on www.dmpcc.org/billie where she writes a monthly newsletter column for Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center.