4 Ways to Stay Empowered When the Holidays are Hard

Once again, the holidays are upon us. We are bombarded with holiday music, decorations, food, and invitations. For many, it’s the happiest time of the year, but that’s not the case for everyone.

Tragedy, disaster, and crisis don’t make exceptions for the holidays. Life-changing events happen any time with little regard to how it inconveniences or interferes with one’s life.

Whether it’s you, a friend, or a loved one that’s struggling, the holiday season can be challenging. Below are a few tips and techniques to empower you or help you support a loved one.

Here Are 4 Ways to Stay Empowered When the Holidays are Hard:

  1. Understand the Stages of Grief

Many people are in the throes of grief, and some don’t even know it. It’s not just the death of a loved one that causes grief. A job loss, diagnosis, being disowned by your family, or bankruptcy can bring about grief. We sometimes grieve the loss of our hopes and dreams.

Understanding what a person experiences emotionally can alleviate your anxieties. Knowing the stages of grief allows you to accept temporary personality shifts or mood fluctuations as a normal part of the healing process. However, one can get stuck in denial by refusing to experience the uncomfortable emotions that grief brings.

Be aware of enabling yourself or others to remain in a state of denial through avoidance tactics. Before you pop the cork, make sure you aren’t drowning your sorrows in a bottle of wine. It’s better to acknowledge and experience an emotion than to avoid it.

Strong emotions tend to pass through a person in minutes. Think about the last time you allowed yourself to experience anger or have a good cry. How long were you angry? How long did that good cry last? On average, an emotion lasts ten minutes or less. And, how did you feel afterward? Most likely relieved, a whole lot better and more balanced. Right?!

After an emotion passes and a better feeling settles-in, then have a sip. Celebrate the forward progress granted by experiencing the emotion rather than avoiding it. Avoidance and emotional suppression will prolong your suffering.

Realize that emotions hit us in waves, and it’s normal to experience elevated levels of sadness, anger, guilt, and even joy for short periods. We have been conditioned to label uncomfortable emotions as negative, ultimately making the situation worse. The last thing a grieving person needs is a label that makes them feel different and excluded. Drop the labels, understand grief, and accept that emotions happen.

  1. Learn to Hold Space

Holding space simply means you’re not emotionally reacting to someone in your presence who is experiencing a strong emotion. Holding space for yourself means you allow yourself to emote.

If your grieving friend needs to have a good cry and starts sobbing, just be there with him. There’s no need to put your arm around him. Don’t hand him a tissue. Refrain from offering comforts. When you do those things, you are sending non-verbal cues for him to stop crying, clean himself up, and pull it together so YOU feel better.

The helpful thing to do is simply be there with him. There’s no need for words while he experiences his tears and sobs. Remember, this wave of emotion will pass in a matter of minutes. When he’s coming back from his good cry, he will give you some indication that it’s okay to offer that arm, tissue, or other comforts. He might look around, make eye contact, or reach for the tissue himself. With kindness, compassion, and patience, wait for that cue before you intervene.

  1. Be Willing to DO Something Different

Holiday traditions and obligations are a double-edged sword after a life-changing event. Continuing with traditions as if nothing happened can trigger further trauma. When you know life will never be the same, adapt your holiday traditions accordingly.

Instead of assuming, have an honest and non-confrontational conversation about the tradition in question. If your grieving loved one doesn’t want to participate in the annual Christmas breakfast, be willing to change it up this year to show support. Inflexibility reinforces trauma and emotional suffering, whereas flexibility is supportive and healing.

If you’re the one who’s experienced a loss and your family is inflexible, be willing to say No to traditions you know will make you feel worse. Bow out of the Christmas breakfast this year. If your family can’t be flexible for you, be flexible for yourself.

  1. Have a Back-Up Plan

Before attending any holiday gathering, discuss your worries and what-if scenarios with someone you trust. It’s okay to ask for support and have a back-up plan. Come up with a codeword or phrase to signal you need to leave early. Make a pact beforehand to leave together. Don’t become selfish if you agreed to support another person. Stick to the plan, no matter how much fun you’re having.

If you’re going alone, give yourself permission to leave if it becomes overwhelming. Don’t dawdle. When you decide to leave, go quickly so others don’t have a chance to pressure you into staying. Remember, you don’t have to say anything, just leave. You can text later to let them know you’re okay. Rehearse the plan in your head so it’s easier to execute if the time comes.

Accept that the holidays are going to be rough, and have compassion for your situation. You’ll be amazed at how empowering that subtle shift is. If you know you’re going to experience waves of emotion, make room for them. Give yourself time and space to experience the stages of grief.

Severe physical wounds go through cycles of pain as they’re healing, and so do severe emotional wounds. Permit yourself to carve a new path, have patience with the process, and make room to experience your emotions. This’ll help you feel empowered, even on the toughest of days.

– Jennifer

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