It’s the most wonderful time of the year…right? It’s supposed to be, at least. That’s what we hear in every advertisement and echoed in the music and themed entertainment surrounding us at every turn. The holidays are a time for togetherness, celebration, and—particularly this month—gratitude.
How do you cope when you feel genuinely grateful to be here and share in these moments with your loved ones, but you’re still doing the hard work of implementing the concepts learned in treatment and building a life worth living? You may feel pulled in several directions, and that alone can add a lot of frustration and stress to your life.
Embrace tiny gratitude
Are you glad to be with family, but seeing them brings up painful memories or a sense of guilt about the time you lost when you were in the depths of your depression or ruled by anxiety? Does being around family inspire a prickly sense of obligation, or is it relief mixed in with gratitude that you get to be there to make new memories at all?
This tangle can be challenging to navigate, but even as you’re warding off conflicting emotions, turn your attention toward tiny joys that inspire a sense of gratitude. Willingly giving space to gratitude for the little things can be empowering.
Center yourself in the moment to allow those experiences to intentionally steal your focus. This is practicing mindfulness in action! These small gratitudes can be as subtle as the way the light hits the glass of the kitchen window or how every napkin on the table is slightly off-center. Be grateful for small observations that make you feel peaceful or amused—anything that relieves the weight of your emotions from the pressure of the holidays and your own complex experience of it all.
Get Comfortable with Duality
There is no right or wrong way to feel, and there is no need to choose one. If it’s your first holiday season after treatment or your tenth, you have every right to feel whatever you are feeling right now.
You can be grateful and struggling right now.
You can be grateful tonight and angry right now.
You can be confused right now and grateful tomorrow.
It may be uncomfortable in the beginning to acknowledge emotions that feel at odds with one another, and that’s okay. Holidays themselves can be complex, layered in past memories and future hopes all while dealing with the stress of the present (and presents, and presence) stacking precariously atop one another. Your emotions don’t have to match anyone else’s idea of how you should feel right now—not even yours—and they certainly don’t have to match one another.
Sit with what you’re feeling and give each emotion the space to exist in its own right, even when they overlap. You can be grateful to be here—both here in the literal sense of the moment spent with your loved ones and here in the figurative sense as in being alive and feeling hopeful about your future. Each of these senses is valid on its own, even when juxtaposed with feelings of guilt or difficulty. Let them breathe life into your world, and acknowledge where they came from.
Sometimes, letting your emotions out can bring up discomfort or fear that you’re not sure how to manage on your own. So don’t. If you think that you may benefit from support in any regard, it’s okay to ask for it. Perhaps the support you need will help you stay on track by holding you in a moment or place that prevents you from falling into old habits and means of coping. Maybe the support you need is to be heard in your discomfort or offered guidance to find your way through it.
The newness of life after treatment and stark surprise of peace and pain may be overwhelming this year, but when one becomes bigger than the other, let your trusted support team in to be a part of that feeling with you. There is a myriad of options for support available to you, not only at THIRA Health but within your larger community network. Your loved ones, so eager to share the holiday season with you, may not have the tools or words to help you navigate this exact predicament, but they do have something that matters: a great love for you. Let them support you in holding space for that love even when it’s difficult to feel it.