It’s Not the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” For All of Us

freestocks-org-470417.jpgIt’s the most wonderful time of the year, right?

Surprisingly that isn’t the case for a large number of people who actually feel increasingly depressed, lonely, and anxious around the holiday season. The societal pressure to feel all ‘holly jolly’ makes people who are already experiencing some level of distress, loss or unhappiness in their lives feel even worse. Mixed with the seasonal shift and the added stressors of extra expenses, busier schedules, poor eating & drinking habits and dysfunctional family relations, it only makes sense that our emotional and mental state would be heightened during this time.

If you’re one of the many people who struggle around this time of year, there’s a few important things you should know:

  1. You are not abnormal. It might seem like everyone around you is wrapped in Christmas lights and singing ‘fa-la-la’ while tap dancing in the snow, but more people are experiencing intense levels of depression, anxiety and stress at this time of year than you probably realize. People are often too proud to share the hard stuff, especially when they (like you) assume everyone around them is so full of joy, but believe me, it exists. As a therapist, I see many patients who struggle during this time of year and many who even consider taking their own lives as a means to escape it all. Despite the supposed ‘joy’ of the holiday season, there are plenty who just like you – are feeling down. You are not flawed, wrong, or a bad person for feeling this way. In fact, it’s completely normal for your emotions to be intensified now more than ever.
  2. You are not alone. When we feel like the people around us are happy, the last thing we want to do is burden them with our problems. But we’re actually not burdening them at all. If it is the case that they seem to feel particularly happy during this time of year, they will likely be even more eager to listen and support you. On the contrary, they might be relieved by you sharing your struggles because it gives them an opportunity to relate and share their own. When we feel depressed, we often assume the worst about the people in our lives – that they don’t care about us, that we’re a bother to them or that they couldn’t possibly understand. These are usually just defense mechanisms that we create to justify our feelings of loneliness and, ultimately, make ourselves feel worse. If you’re not comfortable reaching out to the people you know, there are plenty of therapists and support groups that can help you through this time of year.
  3. You are not your thoughts or feelings. One of the biggest challenges people have is separating their thoughts and feelings from themselves. They feel lonely, so they believe that they are lonely & might fail to see the ways that they’re not. They feel depressed, so they beat themselves up for it, assuming they’re flawed or a failure of some sort. They think that nobody cares about them and assume that must be true. Our thoughts & feelings are separate from ourselves. I like to think of them as clouds, just floating by, unattached to us. They exist, and they’re a part of our existence, but they don’t define who we are and what our reality is. When we can begin to separate our feelings and thoughts from our reality, our worthiness, and our identity, we can begin to heal and not feel consumed and controlled by them.
  4. You are not doomed. It’s often hard for people to see light at the end of the tunnel or to believe that they are capable of overcoming the intensity of their emotional and mental state. When we’re in the midst of a severe period of depression or anxiety, it doesn’t necessarily matter how much we rationalize with ourselves, remind ourselves of previous times that we worked through something similar, or use positive self-talk. We just feel stuck, frustrated, and helpless. But let me remind you of point #3, just because you feel stuck, frustrated and helpless, doesn’t mean you actually are. You might feel that way right now and it may take some time for you to feel otherwise, but chances are, if you’re reading this, you are also extremely self-aware, resilient and curious — and those things will help you through this difficult time.

If you don’t personally experience increased feelings of loneliness, depression or anxiety at this time of year, make sure you’re being mindful and aware of the people in your life who may. Reach out to your loved ones and make sure to remind them that you’re there for them. Invite them to spend time with you, but be understanding if they’d rather not. Don’t make them think they can just ‘snap out of it’ or try to guilt them into feeling better. Show them patience, kindness, love and support – even if they only let you do so from a distance.

I’m offering free, 30-minute ‘holiday healing’ sessions through the new year to help you start the process of working through the difficult emotions you may be feeling during this holiday season. Please contact me with your availability to schedule yours.

 

Why We Should Be in More Bad Moods

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Ever feel like you can’t just ‘get over it’? Can’t snap out of your bad mood? Can’t force a smile? Can’t pretend everything’s fine?

Good. That means you’re human.

Society has made us believe that positive emotions are good and negative emotions are bad, thus making us feel even worse when we experience even a hint of an emotion that we perceive to be negative. Not being able to ‘shake it off’ just makes us feel even worse and, sometimes, as though something is inherently wrong with us. The social media highlight reel doesn’t help this false notion.

What would it be like to never experience emotional pain, sadness, frustration, loneliness, anger or jealousy? On a very surface level, you might think it sounds great. But the avoidance or absence of these emotions would actually stunt our positive emotions, too.

While it’s healthy to learn how to regulate our emotions so that they don’t feel overwhelming or out of our control all the time, part of getting there is by accepting them – ALL of them – and allowing ourselves to fully sit in and experience the good, the bad and the ugly.

Imagine if I told you NOT to think about a purple elephant. Chances are you wouldn’t be able to STOP thinking about one. The same goes for telling ourselves to just ‘get over it’, to stop feeling a certain way or to stop thinking about a pressing issue. Instead, we often end up feeling worse or thinking about it more and, as a result, a viscous, counterproductive cycle begins.

Sometimes things just suck — and anger or sadness is an appropriate reaction. Sometimes you might find yourself in a bad mood for no clear reason. Those feelings can be uncomfortable, but they’re also important. When we avoid them, we risk prolonged anxiety, depression, and more severe issues down the road.

So what do we do when these super uncomfortable & seemingly “bad” emotions flare up? What do we do when we just can’t shake our bad mood?

1) Be kind to yourself. You are not a robot. You are not going to feel positive, happy and in control all of the time. Learn that that’s okay. Be your own best friend and remind yourself to let you off the hook. Keep a mantra or affirmation that resonates with you written down somewhere to read, re-write or say out loud as needed.

2) Give yourself space. It’s okay to take a few minutes, an hour or even a day to just feel your feelings. While we all have responsibilities, we also have a responsibility to ourselves, too. Depending on the severity of what you’re experiencing and how you’re feeling, consider taking a mental health day, having a good cry in the shower or finding healthy ways to release your emotions, such as journaling, exercising or speaking with a therapist or friend.

3) Give yourself time. Don’t expect your feelings to dissipate immediately upon giving yourself some space. Don’t set limits on what the right or wrong amount of time to feel something is. Just continue checking in with yourself and reminding yourself that how you’re feeling now is not necessarily how you will feel forever. Rushing the process will only prolong it.

4) Communicate with others. We often fear judgment or feel guilty when we’re in a bad mood, but there’s something powerful about being vulnerable and transparent. When we avoid communicating our feelings with those around us, there’s often misunderstanding which can sometimes make things worse. Don’t be afraid to tell the people around you that you’re dealing with something and need some space. Your feelings are your own and you deserve to give yourself whatever YOU need while experiencing them.

5) Reflect afterwards. Once you’re feeling more neutralized, reflect on what was going on for you. Was there a deeper issue causing your feelings that you can address once you’ve had some time and space? While it will probably feel nice to have some relief, it’s also important to try and gain a deeper understanding of what led to these emotions. This will help you anticipate and cope with similar ones in the future. If you can’t pinpoint it, though, move on. Sometimes there isn’t a deeper issue and other times it won’t come to us right away. Don’t dwell on trying to understand.

I’m curious to hear about what you do when you find yourself in a bad mood. Do you try to force yourself out of it or do you allow yourself to fully experience the emotions that come up? It’s okay if you still feel inclined to avoid negative emotions — it’s a very normal reaction and you are certainly not alone in it, but through awareness and practice you can begin to become more patient and accepting of yourself when a bad mood or uncomfortable feeling strikes. Feel free to comment below or send me a message – I’d love to hear from you.