Christmas is commercialised as a time of fun, festivities, and being with family.
Switch the TV on, and a majority of the adverts will be about parties or people sitting around a dinner table.
Christmas movies are all centered around celebrating and being with loved ones. Most media campaigns show happy people enjoying themselves, laughing, and being merry.
The reality, however, is that for many, Christmas can be a time of dread, pain, emotional distress, or devastation due to the absence of a loved one or heartbreak.
Here are three things that can help you deal with the emotional pain:
1. Acceptance: It’s Okay to Not Be Okay.
It is important to remember that grieving is a normal, natural, and necessary process. It cannot be rushed, stopped, or changed.
If we are physically hurt or injured, our body is programmed to heal. No matter what happens or how long it takes, our body will get there and heal in its own time.
The same analogy applies to emotional hurt, which we can experience after loss. If we have experienced a loss, we are programmed to heal from that. It is not a sign of weakness, fragility, or vulnerability. It is actually our body doing what it should be doing.
Fighting this or being in denial about this will only create more emotional distress as we suppress or bury those feelings deeper and deeper inside us. Accepting that we are grieving and allowing ourselves to be upset, instead of fighting it, can help reduce unnecessary extra emotional distress.
It’s okay to not be okay. Being mindful of this will be helpful, alongside talking to someone about how you are feeling.
2. Realistic Expectations.
Those around us will naturally want to lift our mood and make us feel better. They may do this by trying to invite us to certain social activities, encouraging us to get out more, or involving us in routine, day-to-day activities.
At times, guilt and pressures of people-pleasing can make us say yes to attending social events, gatherings, parties, or being part of other commitments that we are not yet ready for. We might attend and get through the event by “putting a brave face on”—consequently, however, we can create more emotional turmoil within ourselves. It is like running on a broken leg then wondering why it is not healing.
When grieving, which is our healing process, it is important to rest, slow down, and take a step away from certain events/activities/situations. In doing so, we give ourselves time to recover, re-charge, re-energise, and the space to process how we are feeling. Forcing ourselves to do things, be places, or be someone we are not ready to be is a form of avoidance and will interrupt healing.
Next time you are faced with a situation in which you are feeling guilty or confused, consider:
>> “How realistic is my expectation?”
>> “Am I putting more pressure on myself?”
>> “What would be more realistic instead?”
Asking ourselves these questions can ensure we set realistic expectations for ourselves, enabling us to set secure boundaries that can help us heal.
We often speak to ourselves in a way that we wouldn’t dream of speaking to someone else. Why is it okay for us to use that language with ourselves but not with others? Why is it okay for us to beat ourselves up with the stick of criticism but it’s cruel to do it to others?
Being critical creates judgment within us, making us feel that how we are feeling is bad, wrong, or unnecessary. This results in our feelings being buried, suppressed, or going unacknowledged, which is never going to end well. When we do this, we develop anxiety, anger, low mood, conflict, and confusion within ourselves.
The criticism needs to be replaced with compassion. The same compassion that we would have toward someone else.
Next time the critical voice starts to appear, it is important to challenge it. Think of someone whom you are protective over, visualise this person, and visualise them speaking to themselves in the way that you are speaking to yourself.
What would you say to this person? How would you respond to them? Would your response be from a place of criticism or compassion? Don’t have a different set of rules for yourself than the one that you have for others. Be fair. Speak to yourself the way you would speak to a loved one.
Loss, whether that is through bereavement or a change in personal/life circumstances, is never easy. Nothing and no one will replace that person(s) in your life.
It may not seem possible right now, but as time goes on, you will heal and things won’t be as painful. However, in the meantime, we can follow these three steps to give ourselves the care, kindness, and nurture that are so crucial and important at this stage in our life, especially at this time of the year.