Source: DepositPhotos/VIA Institute
The holidays are not candy canes, mistletoe, and fun family gatherings for all of us. For some among us, it’s a dreadful time and a personal reminder of suffering in the form of isolation, overwhelm, or sadness. While you might not be able to “get rid” of your suffering, there are some tools you might not have considered that can help you and your loved ones. Here’s what others have done to cope with or dampen the pain.
ISOLATION (Jason’s story)
“It seems I feel lonely every year around November and December and through some of January. It’s not related to the season, the level of sunlight I get, or the holiday stress. I just feel down. I sort of dread this time of year. I don’t have a lot of friends or family around. I take on extra hours at work. I go home each day and watch a lot of TV before bed. I try to watch shows that won’t remind me of people getting together and having fun…so I watch zombie shows and adventure movies. This time of year sucks.”
How Jason Took Action
“I turned to my creativity. I like to make graphic art and also write and play music on my guitar. I started with what I called “my weekend of creativity.” I did nothing but create things the whole weekend. I wrote music and drew. I went to bed, woke up, and wrote more music and drew some more…the whole weekend. I was alone but I felt good. It gave me a nice lift. Then I started searching social media groups for creativity, graphic art, and guitar groups. I found a couple that I liked. I share ideas and post things in these groups after work. That has helped me feel more connected to people and it keeps my attention because it’s all in my main areas of interest.”
OVERWHELM (Molly’s story)
Molly is a recently divorced mother of two boys with ADHD. This is her first year facing Christmas celebrations, gift-giving, and holiday fun as a single mother. The stress of the challenging behavior of her two boys acts as light fluid on the painful reality of Molly’s discomfort around her new relationship status.
“I feel like everyone in my family is judging me. I’m the odd single parent now. I’m the divorcee. That’s a new mental stress.” she says, “And my job as a retail sales manager is much busier this time of year. It’s hard for me to find any time for my kids or to even drive them to their events. I feel like I’m barely making it.”
How Molly Took Action
“Well, no surprise, I looked to my highest strengths: appreciation of beauty and prudence. In the past, I tried relaxation strategies and exercising more but those seemed like band-aids for my stress. This year I used my prudence to make a different kind of plan and one that I would stick with. I wanted my plan to involve spending quality time with my kids every day. I wanted to appreciate them and all the wonderful and beautiful things about them. Time flies by so fast and I don’t want to miss these precious times. What I have been doing is after dinner we spend 15 minutes savoring the good of the day. I ask them what they liked best about their day so far. I then share my favorite moments too. We do this plan every single day. It’s our ritual. It’s not perfect – sometimes one boy runs out of the room, sometimes one doesn’t know what to say. But, still, it’s our ritual. And, it’s something I look forward to each day. In some ways, I think they look forward to it too. When I feel stressed at work, now I just think about what I’ll share with my boys when I get home.”
SADNESS (Dave’s story)
“This might sound weird but I get sad this time of year because my extended family gets together more often. And, every time we get together there’s a new fight – a new drama, new hurt feelings are set off. Somebody’s yelling, somebody’s running away, and somebody’s criticizing everyone in sight. Same ‘ol thing, just a different year. These gatherings put a damper on everything. They stick with me throughout the season. I already experience depression that I take medication for and this just seems to worsen my depression. This might sound bad but things are better when I don’t get together with my whole family. I have others I can spend time with and not feel bad around.”
How Dave Took Action
“This year I decided to let my strength of perspective take over. I stepped outside of myself and looked at the bigger picture – the negative impact of the drama on my kids, that life is too short for that nonsense, and that there were happier things I could do. But, I didn’t want to abandon anyone either. This perspective led me to decide I would get together only 1 time with my extended family this season. I would do other things with my kids and friends on other special days. And, when I got together that one time, I really prepared myself for it. I reminded myself that any bad feelings were temporary, that I could look for the good in each person, and that I didn’t have to participate in the conflicts or drama. In other words, I practiced my coping before anything even happened! I felt a ton better with this approach.”
How might you take positive action with your sadness, isolation, or overwhelm? I’ve shared Molly’s way, Dave’s way, and Jason’s way. Each of us needs to find our own way. It’s not always as easy and straightforward as the words here indicate. Turn to your strongest inner qualities to help you. Your character strengths can catalyze ideas, empower your coping, and be positive companions along the way.