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Five Ways to Handle 


Holiday Emotions

Christmas music makes me cry. Not all the time, but often enough that it has become a thing. I can be driving down the road, singing along, and suddenly I find myself caught up in a tidal wave of emotion that ends in an ugly crying spree.

WTH? I love Christmastime. I love everything about it. All the music, the twinkly lights, the tasteful AND the tacky decorations. I don’t discriminate between classics and contemporary. I love it all.

And I have wonderful Christmas memories. A loving family. No real obvious reason to spontaneously burst into tears while walking through activewear at Target because Home for the Holidays just started playing on the loudspeakers.

After a little consideration I think I have figured out what that’s all about. I’m already a Highly Sensitive Person. And Christmas is a season that is dialing up all our emotions. Focusing on our memories, loved ones, hope.  The intent is, of course, is a joyful one.

But that emotional amplification cuts across everything.

When I hear a song about being home for the holidays, I start to think about people who have experienced loss. Or who can no longer go home. It doesn’t have to mean that they had a traumatic childhood and have no positive holiday memories. (Although of course there are plenty of those people as well.)

The joy and goodwill might be turned up loud this month. But bittersweet memories and all the needs in the world are louder, too.

I think about my own losses and the perfectly natural changes that are occurring in my own life, with my kids growing up and my parents growing older.

Time passes and we all collect mixed memories of what home looks like.

All of these happy and painful thoughts and memories become tangled together like an old string of twinkly lights from the attic.

The joy and goodwill might be turned up loud this month. But bittersweet memories and all the needs in the world are louder, too.

And nothing drives that home more than sentimental Christmas music.

And when a lovely Christmas song makes all of that emotion bubble up to the surface, the tears are the overflow. Sometimes they are happy tears. Sometimes they are tears for people who don’t have all the blessings that I have. Sometimes they are tears of loss.

I think the emotional boost at the holidays is one of the reasons many people try to avoid them at all costs.

So how do we manage all that extra emotion this time of year? I have a few ideas.

1. Feel the Feels.

Trying to ignore or stuff emotions away usually backfires. So take a minute (or ten) and just acknowledge that you feel the way you feel.

Just acknowledging to yourself that you are ‘sad about this’, or ‘mad about that’ can be helpful. You don’t have to have all the answers or explanations. Just giving yourself permission to be angry or disappointed is a powerful step.

Tell yourself that it is okay to feel your feelings. (Because it is.)

2. Get quiet.

A quiet place and some deep breaths can be really helpful. When your emotions are running amuck, just let them take a time out.

Take a short walk, go somewhere you can be alone, lock yourself in a bathroom if you need to. Whatever is available and works best for you.

Lower the stimuli around you and let your emotions regain their equilibrium.

3. Self soothe.

What soothes your soul? Quiet music, a walk in nature, a hot bath? A bowl of mashed potatoes? (Speaking for a friend.)

When you are upset and off-balance, do the thing that makes you feel most taken care of.

4. Find something to focus on that brings you joy.

Occasionally just giving ourself permission to feel our feelings is enough to make us start to come back to ourselves. Getting quiet and self-soothing can help us work through the moment.

But at times it can also be hard to let go of those upsetting emotions. If you are struggling to move away from your anger or stress, find something to focus on that brings you joy.

Maybe it is thinking about what you have to be grateful for. Maybe it is a uplifting playlist or a positive book. Find something that brings you joy and start focusing on that instead of your negative emotions.

While a huge piece of our emotional health involves chosing where we place our focus, that should never replace our need to…

5. Talk it out.

Don’t ever just pretend not to have a problem if you think you have a problem. Sounds crazy, but I’ve been there. YOU know YOU the best.

I usually start by talking things out with myself via journaling. Sometimes just writing things out helps me get to the real issue behind my feelings.

But if that isn’t enough and your emotions keep getting the best of you,  it might be time to reach out to someone else. This can be a close friend, a clergy person, or a licensed counselor.

I’m a firm believer that everyone, everywhere can benefit from a few sessions of therapy with a counselor. So don’t be scared to try it.

But however you decide to do it, find a way to talk through your issue.

Holiday emotions can get the best of any of us.

Don’t beat yourself up if suddenly you find yourself struggling. It is a season of joy, yes, but life is complicated, and sometimes joy can be, too. One of the wonders and curiosities of being human is that we can hold both joy and loss in our hearts simultaneously.

So let yourself feel your difficult emotions. Just don’t let them take up all the room. Give yourself permission to feel the joy of the season, too.


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