The holiday season can bring significant joy, or perhaps just social pressure to be joyful. But let’s get real — it’s common for a lot of other feelings like sadness, loneliness, frustration or hopelessness, to arise as the holidays come and go. Shorter, grayer days, cold weather, the nostalgia of past holidays and complicated family dynamics, can all drive complex responses.
Learning to acknowledge, sit with, and accept the myriad emotional states that you experience is a great skill to work on in therapy and in life. Social media, family norms, and maybe just the calendar itself, might seem to tell you to be merry and bright, and dismiss the challenging aspects of your emotional wellness throughout the holiday season. If the end of the year brings more attention to your perceived failures than your accomplishments, or sad memories of loved ones rather than unmitigated revelry, can you learn to accept all of your feelings about the season?
While we often misuse the word “ambivalence” to mean indifferent, the word is derived from Latin roots ambi- (“in two ways”) and valeō (“be strong”), and more accurately translates to having conflicting but equivalent, and potentially strong, beliefs on a topic. Practicing ambivalence means observing and sitting with simultaneous conflicting emotions — not to be apathetic towards them. Around the holidays, that might mean gratitude and connection sitting closely alongside loneliness and despair. What a gift to give to yourself to acknowledge that both of these powerful experiences can coexist; that this is natural and normal. Being gentle with yourself as you take in the joyful moments that the holiday season can present while also accepting the bitterness of loss or stress of social pressure.
Taking an open and honest approach to your emotions throughout the holiday season and letting go of the expectations of what you “should” be feeling is a great first step. Ask yourself what is coming up for you emotionally, and what thoughts, beliefs, or interactions might be contributing to those feelings. This will help you to become more aware of, and be more thoughtful in responding to, whatever feelings come up for you regardless of whether you are faced with a big family get together or a quiet holiday on your own. And if you need some extra support, it might be time to reach out and set up an appointment to talk with a professional to give yourself time and space to process your feelings.