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Dealing with Complex Emotions During the Holidays

As the Christmas and New Year's holidays draw near, many people struggle with feelings of emptiness that they do not expect or do not understand. Isn’t this supposed to be a time of happiness, joy, and contentment?

It is easy to feel alone or left out if you do not share the same spirit or attitude that others around you seem to be experiencing.

Teal Christmas tree ornament in Chambersburg, PA
One of Sanctuary's colors on a Christmas ball

Take heart, as you or your loved ones are not the only people who go through these complicated emotions during the holidays.

This time may be more difficult for you because you have lost someone that you deeply care about this year, or last year, or even 10 years ago. Grief is something that lingers, especially around times that we would have loved to share with that person. Others around you may not understand why you are more sad or sensitive during this time, which can make it even harder. It is normal to need someone to empathize with your grief. It's also difficult when your loved ones struggle missing someone, as well.

Those who deal with depression, anxiety, or other mental health struggles may also have complicated emotions during the holiday season. There are a lot of expectations that come with this time, including finding gifts that your loved ones may enjoy, and spending more time together. While this is exciting for many people, you may find you are struggling with these expectations more than you thought you would. Change can be difficult, even when you know it is temporary, and it may be hard to put into words why you are feeling pressure or insecurity along with these expectations.

There are so many other reasons that the holiday season could be complicated for you. Perhaps you have a loved one in the military, and you are concerned for their well-being and worried for their safety. Maybe they are safe where they are, but being apart is more difficult than you thought. Maybe you are dealing with the loss of a job or monetary insecurity, and you are feeling sorrow at the thought that your children may not experience the Christmas that you had hoped they would in regards to elaborate food and gifts. You could be dealing with a health issue that is burdening you, and in turn it makes you feel as though you are burdening others. Health conditions, including chronic ones, make many things bittersweet, and often distract us with worry or sadness.

Or maybe you aren’t quite sure why you are experiencing aloneness, even surrounded by all of the people or things you could want – maybe you can’t quite put it into words.

No matter what the source is of your complicated emotions or disconnectedness regarding the holiday season, here are a few things you might be able to do at home to ease the burden.

  1. Find a trusted loved one, and confide in them about what you are feeling. This is at the top of the list, because often our struggles are much louder and pronounced when we deal with them in secret. When we share our feelings with another person, there is often a sense of release and relief. We are reminded that we are loved and cared for despite how we feel, and that can be comforting and reassuring. It may not change our feelings about the holiday season, but it will add a sense of security and hope that we may not have felt before. Being honest and transparent with a loved one can be a freeing and helpful experience.

  2. Find a support group with like-minded people. Not everyone has the privilege of having loved ones who they know will have compassionate or kind reactions to the things they are feeling. If you are unable to share with a person that you know well and are close to, there are many online support groups available to people of all different struggles. From being a parent of a child with autism to someone having marital complications, there is a group for everyone. There are more public (but mostly anonymous) sites such as Facebook and Reddit that host these groups. Or, if a more personal group is preferred, a quick Google search will reveal online support groups through Zoom or another platform. If you are unsure about how to use the technology that is required to participate in these groups, ask someone you know who knows about the ins and outs of the internet to help you set up an account at the site of your choosing.

  3. Find a way to serve. There is always a time and place (and important one) for self-care and taking time for oneself. If all you do is care for others, this might not be the best step for you. For those who struggle with feelings of isolation and have difficulties reaching out for support, this may be helpful. Sometimes, self-care doesn’t help lift you up in the same way that serving another person might. Taking the focus off of yourself to find a way to care for another person in need can remind us that there are many needs that we can help fulfill for others. Maybe your neighbor could use some company or a helping hand, or a teenager you know could use help with their homework or learning a new skill that you already know. There are so many possibilities for serving. Even finding out that a friend could use some groceries and then surprising them with those has a way of brightening your spirit when you see their joy.

  4. Taking purposeful time for yourself. If you skipped the last one because you spend the majority of your time caring for others, then this one is for you. Some demographics who may be saying “this is me!” as they read this include people who are caregivers for someone who is sick, parents with young children, and people who work in a helping profession. It is easy to let the days, weeks, and months go by without taking any real time to pause and breathe. Restful time is crucial to mental health, as a reset and refresh to be able to emotionally cope with trials and struggle. Evaluate yourself and determine if you are taking enough time to pause and rest, and if not, try to find a way to set aside scheduled time for this (even if it’s short). If you are unable to do so, find a way that you can include this time into your caregiving. If you have young children, have more movie nights with a children’s movie you enjoy too, and rest in your time with them. If you are caregiving, journal while there is calm. Even music that is calming and relaxing instead of listening to the news as you go to and from your job can provide that ‘reset’ for a time. It is all individual, as YOU are the expert in you and what your self-care needs are.

  5. If you are not a Christian - and even if you are - and you consider yourself to be spiritual, meditation can be a way to calm your body and your mind. There are many online resources that can teach you about mindfulness. Even if you are neither spiritual nor religious, mindfulness can be greatly beneficial to you as a coping skill. When you learn positive coping skills and you utilize them, it may feel awkward or difficult at first. The good news is that if you continue to push through and try them even when you feel that way, eventually it will become easier and easier. Positive coping skills will look like different things for different people, but all of them result in a healthier mindset and way of living.

As you or your loved one experiences complex emotions during this coming holiday season, remember that you are seen, and you are not alone in it. If all of the listed things are not as helpful for you as you would have wanted, consider scheduling a therapy appointment. We at Sanctuary are here to listen, guide, and empathize. We see you as a person who is worthy and valued, and we love serving you as you go through difficult seasons in your life.

At Sanctuary Christian Counseling we help grieving individuals, distressed kids and teens and couples in conflict find peace, solutions and connection.

Sanctuary Christian Counseling

9974 Molly Pitcher Highway, Suite 4

Shippensburg, PA 17257



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