For many, the Holiday season is one of great joy, sharing and togetherness. Along with joy, however, this season has also been known to set up the perfect conditions for darker and more difficult moods to emerge. It is well-known that this season tends to bring up a lot of confusion and stress for many, whether from current obligations, or from conditioned mind habit patterns resulting from previous family/life experiences. Put all of this together and for many, the Holidays become a period to “get through” or “endure”.
For those of us who experience emotional swings, difficulties, or even depression during this season, it can be helpful to see this time as great fodder for our practices. So how can we work skillfully with these difficulties?
For those of you who choose to boycott the holidays and not participate, even if you don’t experience the same stress during this season, it is safe to assume that you are still subjected to some of the collective’s energetic response during this period. After all, people all around you are probably acting quite differently than you are usually accustomed. As part of your practice, it may be helpful to see if your withdrawal from participating in this holiday is the result of your harboring any underlying beliefs, resentment, or negativity towards any particular traditions, persons or society? If so, this doesn’t make you bad or wrong, but any such resentment or negativity is something you can know, acknowledge, feel, and work with without adding any extraneous narrative. On the flip side, you may want to look and explore if you have any feelings of pride or superiority around your choice to withdraw. If so, this is just one more thing to work with, as skillfully as possible.
Once we start to experience the “holiday blues” or difficulties, the first things some of our minds tend to do is to help us by trying to understand or contextualize the origins of these downers. By doing so, the mind collects data from past and present scenarios to weave intricate stories which explain or support the “blues”. When told regularly to ourselves, these stories actually energize, worsen, and/or prolong these difficult states – it’s as though we are adding fuel to already blazing fires.
Others minds help their hosts deal with the Holiday Blues by denying or avoiding the downer moods. Unfortunately, as many of us know, the more we attempt to deny or avoid something, the stronger it rears its head to become known, ultimately growing stronger over time. Many avoiding minds are motivated to use alcohol or other addictive substances to appease or avoid this growing unpleasantness. It’s easy to see how our helpful minds can actually be quite unhelpful.
The middle and most helpful path to take is to use our mindful awareness to be present with and acknowledge the Holiday Blues or emotional frustrations that may arise during this time period. The trick here is to acknowledge difficult states without energizing them with explanations or story lines. Even though they may be based on reasonable facts (like my Aunt Sharie talks constantly without seemingly taking a breath), it is still most helpful to stop energizing already difficult situations with our stories about them. Acknowledge only the pain, sadness, frustration, impatience, judgment, worry, indigestion, or whatever is arising at the moment.
Another important inquiry is to see if we have unrealistic expectations of ourselves or others to “be” a certain way. If so, drop these expectations and accept ourselves, family members, and friends, just as they are. After all, your brother who has told really corny jokes each year for the past 30+ years (that he thinks are hilarious) will most likely continue telling corny jokes that you find no humor in. Then again, he may stop telling jokes, period. As long as the people in your life are not intentionally trying to harm others, you will experience a lot more peace during this season if you stop expecting, and start accepting.
After we acknowledge and accept our present situation, the next most helpful thing to do is bring our mindfulness to our experience without judging it. We mindfully explore our emotional, mental, and physical sensations related to this difficulty. In this way, we give the difficult state the time and space it needs to be known and felt, without making ourselves bad or wrong. It sounds easy but in practice can be quite challenging. Just keep practicing acknowledging, accepting, and opening mindfully to our present circumstances, and eventually difficulties will begin to lessen and fade into the background.
There are many obvious triggers – like the loss of a loved one, or being alone – that can make the holiday season much more challenging. During such difficult times, it is important to surround yourself with a network of caring and supportive friends and/or family. It is imperative to be patient with yourself during this process, while also giving yourself the love, care, and compassion you so greatly deserve. If these blues get too severe to handle, please reach out to someone who cares, possibly even a CRISIS Hotline.
Whether you typically get the Holiday Blues or not, it will be very helpful to continue to practice being mindfully aware of your present experience of each moment. With regular practice, you will start to see how mindful attention can bring a deep sense of peace, joy, wisdom, and acceptance to the variety of life’s ever-changing ups and downs.