Emotions can be painful in holiday season
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By Steven Campbell  November 15, 2013 12:00 am

When I was a little boy, our holidays were right out of Norman Rockwell.  

The day after Halloween marked the beginning. With my mom, dad, five brothers and sisters, assorted aunts and uncles and cousins who showed up at our door in November and December (and sometimes into January), the days were filled with planning and preparing and shopping, including an on-going menu of breakfast rolls, turkey, sweet potatoes, home-made dressing and candies, and pastries that made the angels sing. 

And the hors d’oeuvres!  Don’t even get me started with the hors d’oeuvres!

When Thanksgiving finally arrived, our house was filled with the chatter, laughter, yelling and pronouncing…all addled in fun and celebrations. And then the day after Thanksgiving, the real holidays began, and the rush was on.

Sixty years later, November through December has also become, at times, very hard. Especially if you have experienced a loss, a divorce, a bankruptcy, or the hard times many of us have experienced since the beginning of the Great Recession five years ago. And this is especially true when you have lost someone you love. 

The holidays are supposed to be a family time…a time when you should feel close to everyone. But let’s face it, at times you simply don’t…and you don’t even want to.

In fact, for some of us, Christmas or Hanukkah may be the hardest time of the year, especially when you are too embarrassed to say, “Excuse me, but I have nowhere to go for the holidays. Can I come to your house?”

So I have jotted down some thoughts about planning for what you can do and do not want to do to get through the next couple of months.

• FIRST AND FORMOST, YOU ARE NOT ALONE: If you are struggling, you are not alone, and as much as you’d like to skip from November to Jan. 2, that is impossible. 

Realize that the anticipation of the pain at the holidays is always worse than the actual day.

• IT WILL NOT ALWAYS BE HARD: Recognize that what you decide for this year can be changed next year. Decide what is right for you and your family now. Don’t worry about all the other holidays to come in years ahead. You will be at different places in your life then.

 

• STRESS IS NORMAL: Also recognize that your distress about the holidays is normal. It doesn’t make you a bad person. Countless other people have felt, and do feel, as you do right now.

• DECIDE WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU: Ask yourself and your loved ones to decide what is important for you to make your holidays meaningful and bearable. Then, through compromise and negotiation, see if everyone can get a little of what he or she wants and needs. 

Give-and-take is important here.

• THE HOLIDAYS MAY BE FILLED WITH UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS: Recognize that the holidays are filled with unrealistic expectations for intimacy, closeness, relaxation and joy for all people. Try not to buy into this for yourself – you already may have enough to contend with.

• TAKE TIME OUT TO CARE FOR YOURSELF: Be aware of the pressures, demands, depression, increased alcohol intake and fatigue that comes with the holidays. You may feel these more than others. 

Take time out to take care of yourself during this time. You may need it even more.

• PLAN AHEAD FOR YOUR SHOPPING TASKS: Make a list ahead of time. Then, if you have a good day, capitalize on it and do the shopping you can. 

Try to consolidate the stores you want to visit. If you have trouble with shopping right now, do your shopping by catalog or mail order, or ask friends to help you out.

• RE-EVALUATE FAMILY TRADITIONS: Ask yourself and your surviving loved ones whether you need to carry on with them this year or whether you should begin to develop some new ones. 

Perhaps you can alter your traditions slightly so that you can still have them to a certain extent but don’t have to highlight a loved one’s absence more than it already is. 

For example, you may want to have Thanksgiving dinner at your children’s house instead of yours. Or you might open presents on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas morning.

• CRYING IS OKAY: Tears and sadness do not have to ruin the entire holiday for you or for others. Have the cry you need and you will be surprised that you can go on again until the next time you need to release the tears. 

Let your tears and sadness come and go throughout the whole day if necessary. The tears and emotions you do not express will be the ones that are destructive to you.

• ASK FOR WHAT YOU NEED: Ask for what you want or need from others during the holidays. 

Our feelings are reflecting what is really going on inside of us.  And if you are feeling it, there is a good chance that a lot of others in your family are feeling the same things.

 

Remember this…we are not thinking people who feel, we are feeling people who think.

 

Steven Campbell is the author of "Making Your Mind Magnificent" and conducts "The Winners Circle" every two months at Sonoma Mountain Village in RP. He can be contacted at 480-5007 or steve@anintelligentheart.com. For more information, go to  www.anintelligentheart.com.

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