Although the majority of pop-culture depiction of the holidays leaves a warm, fuzzy, and connected familial feeling, it is important to acknowledge and validate that the holidays can be hard for many of us; the overwhelmed, the anxious, the lonely, the othered, the depressed, and even those with the most loving of families. Don’t worry, there are therapeutic tools that can help so you don’t face this alone.
The good part of that sometimes difficult truth is that if you are reading this now, it means you already survived the start of the holiday slide that is Thanksgiving (or Thanks-taking as my Micmac family cheekily calls it).
Congratulations to you, and quite frankly to me too; we did it!
No matter what iteration of an experience you had at Thanksgiving, you are now on the other side. But with no shortage of Christmas carols blaring at every turn, we are also now reminded of the impending presence (no matter our religious beliefs) of December 25th.
Then, there’s the quick follow-up of New Year’s. And let’s be real, New Year’s can ultimately trigger our feelings of failure around every resolution we ever made but could never keep.
This year, I am here as your virtual therapist to say:
Eff all of these emotionally disruptive traditions and rituals we have unconsciously agreed to in the past.
Let’s cultivate resources and use therapeutic tools to cope with our present rather than repeat the pattern of inundating ourselves with societal norms.
For example, the juxtaposition of a time of year that focuses so heavily on food being followed-up with a time of year focused so strongly on diet and weight-loss, has the potential to feel disorienting and confusing at best, triggering and traumatizing at worst.
Before we go any further, I want to honor that I hold zero judgement around any of these holiday experiences.
In fact, I am transparently naming that even as a therapist and body activist I can experience these feelings as well (yes, we are shockingly human too!) These feelings are not wrong, but we can also honor that they no longer serve us in any way.
So, say a big “see ya” to any feelings of impostor syndrome or self-gaslighting and say hello to these five therapeutic tools to get you through the holidays!
Therapeutic Tool 1. Take Space As Needed
There are a lot of unspoken rules that exist within families whom we very may well be spending the holidays with, which ultimately correspond to how we are physically and emotionally holding and posturing ourselves in any given instance.
If you’re still in your decision-making process for what you are going to do/where you are going to spend this time, I would urge you to really sit with what is coming up for you around it.
Do you feel excited to visit? Do you feel like you are obligated to? Is there any new holiday tradition you can envision creating as an alternative?
Check-in with yourself about any unspoken “rules” that may exist around your ability to take up space. Is it something that is encouraged in your family or have you been taught to keep yourself small?
Perhaps in the past, you felt you needed to dress more modestly or speak or eat less, not sharing your opinion or hiding parts of yourself.
Do you notice how you typically feel in your body when you are around them? Does this thought trigger any any sensations/feelings/thoughts/memories?
Allow yourself to cultivate awareness of how you feel in relation to taking up space around the holidays can be an important opportunity to learn more about our needs and how to have them met.
This holiday season, I want to invite you to TAKE UP SPACE! Live for a moment in the capitalized letters of LIFE. Allow yourself to feel big; large; to feel the sensations of spaciousness itself (whatever that means for you).
Maybe it looks like going for that extra slice of pie, maybe it means cultivating awareness of when the space you want or need to take-up may be in a different location than your family.
Whatever it means for you; honor it.
Therapeutic Tool 2. Create An Energetic “Safe Bubble”
Along with the many unspoken holiday rules that get passed down via our families or society, there is also A LOT of energy coming together in one space.
Sometimes energy feels like tension or discomfort; sometimes it feels angry or awkward; sometimes it feels positive and joyful; sometimes it feels like judgement or misunderstanding.
Whatever you have experienced in the past being projected upon you by others has been their energy not yours. So this holiday go-around, I want to invite you to cultivate this affirmation as a therapeutic tool: “Their energy is theirs. My energy is mine.”
Use it liberally and often.
Additionally, utilize your imagination space to create your own energetic safe bubble of sorts to protect against the emotional vampires tapped out on eggnog. I invite you to do this far before you have to engage with various holiday events that you know may be triggering for you.
Take a few moments to mindfully create exactly what the energetic protection is going to look and feel like for you (for example, mine is a burnt orange ever-moving blob of warm energy). Find one way to call this into a physical entity you can bring with you throughout the holidays.
I personally swear by my essential oil sprays and certain rocks and crystals.
The goal of this is so that when your aunt Linda inevitably tells you that you, “don’t really need to eat that,” you can imagine that projection just bouncing off your bubble so that you don’t internalize it as truth
Therapeutic Tool 3. Learn And Practice That You Are Allowed To Have And Set Boundaries
The “safe bubble” point above is a tremendous example of this! Even when holiday cheer is being forced upon us, we have the right to say no. We have the right to have needs that we communicate.
We have the right to get curious about the most sustainable ways for us to spend our time throughout this season.
Again, our loved ones may require being taught (whether indirectly through modeling or directly through communicated rules/beliefs/norms) to respect our boundaries.
Therapeutic Tool 4. Find An Ally Within Your Holiday Communities
Whether you spend time with your family of origin, your chosen family, or both, being in a larger group can oftentimes feel overwhelming.
It’s not always the case that we feel fully safe with every person involved in any given party or dinner dynamics, and that’s also okay.
Choose one closely pre-appointed ally who will also be present in that situation who can essentially be a support system when needed (and this can go both ways).
This might look like having an open conversation with this person beforehand and together creating a “plan B,” or a “time for a bathroom break signal,” or perhaps a safe-word or gesture that means, “I’m feeling super triggered right now, help!”
And, another pre-agreed upon physical way to invite us to physically come out of this trigger (i.e. a hug or a hand squeeze). Please remember here that there is no right or wrong answers, but only what feels most nourishing for your mind-body.
I know for me, having that ally signifies to my system that I’m not alone (even if my anxiety is starting to feel that way).
Therapeutic Tool 5. Remain Connected To Your Body
As a somatic therapist, I’m very passionate about cultivating your awareness of your mind-body connection every month out of the year, but especially throughout times of heightened triggers like the holidays.
Allowing yourself to stay connected to the sensations, emotions, thoughts, feelings, images, and memories that arise is an important act of self care.
When you may notice yourself slipping into a heightened state of overwhelm or freezing into a state of dissociation, tap into your body as a resource. Allow your body to ground you and to be your safe harbor amongst those potentially stormy seas!
No matter which therapeutic tools you use to help yourself throughout this holiday season, allowing yourself to do so creates a new pathway of a tradition for you to cultivate and nurture.
I know it isn’t easy, but I also know that I believe in our human capacity for resilience and wholeheartedly believe in your ability to tap into that!
What therapeutic tools do you use to help yourself through the holidays?