Oh, the holidays… a time of cheer and joy for many. For those of us who still listen to radio broadcasts instead of podcasts on our commutes, the radio stations are a non-stop stream of holiday music. The sound of bells jingling and Santa’s laughter follow your every step, even before December. Most holiday songs carry a tune of happiness and excitement for the celebrations to come, while others express the solitude, longing, and grief that folks experience during this expected time of festivity. My guess is that people either identify with Buddy, from the movie Elf, or the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Either way, our perception of how people experience the holidays seems to fall under two simple categories, when in reality, I assume that for many people, there is a fluidity to this spectrum of joy and sullenness. I imagine this expectation to be grateful and joyful may push folks into darkness, and they might be forced to contain emotions that do not match the season’s theme. There appears to be much pressure during this time of the year to maintain a high level of cheer, and this expectation may weigh heavy on those who are experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and or trauma. For people facing the dichotomy of “what is versus what should be”, I’d like to offer a different perspective. Before I get to that, I want to note that this is not a “one size fits all” perspective; rather, I hope that you take from this what you find fitting for your life.
If we were to illustrate the relationship between happiness and sadness, we might do so by imagining them as water and oil. Perhaps, the thought of these two polar opposite emotions coexisting is confusing. I would like you to take a second and think of a moment when you felt “happy” and “sad” simultaneously. I know, I know, it is a challenge, but I can guarantee that you have. For example, there comes a time in our lives when we have the opportunity to challenge the traditions, values, and beliefs we no longer align with or feel the need to adjust; a time when we have an awakening to our autonomy. Yes, while this awakening milestone in our life can be empowering and brings about much satisfaction, it can also create a longing for the memories and “traditions” we once cherished. The holiday season can bring these good and/or bad memories into the forefront of our minds and, in turn, be difficult to navigate. There can be two truths: the truth that you miss parts from your past, which brings pain in the present, and the truth, which is this “new” present that brings you much joy. As a society, we do a great disservice in believing that we have to be “either-or” instead; I invite you to challenge that and say, “I just am” and stand by YOUR truth. Giving ourselves the gift of honoring our emotions and acknowledging that there may be weeks, days, hours, and or minutes when we might feel low or sad can alleviate the burden of following the narrative that we have to suppress some of our emotions during this time of the year. Whether it is acknowledging it to ourselves or to someone we feel safe with, it can liberate us from the heaviness it instills in our bodies and minds.
During this time of the year, people tend to have more social interactions or an endless to-do list of items that need to be marked off before the festivities. I will say it again, this time of “cheer” can become extremely stressful in trying to satisfy the needs of others so much so that we often neglect our own needs. How do we set healthy boundaries with others or even ourselves to ensure that we don’t reach a breaking point? I would encourage you to ask yourself “Am I saying “yes” to meet the needs of others but saying “no” to my own?”
As a society, we do a tremendous job of keeping our more challenging emotions out of sight. We are allowed to express a limited selection of feelings in public. Fortunately, it appears that, as a society, we are becoming more receptive to mental health. We have the accessibility to find an abundance of self-care rituals. While yoga, meditation, spiritual retreats, juice cleanses, and spa days are all great ideas, there are simple everyday rituals we can engage in to help boost our moods and decrease anxiety. Going on a walk, taking a long shower, cooking your favorite meal, moving your body, journaling, video-calling a loved one, reading a book, painting, or coloring; all of these easily accessible coping strategies can help release heavy energy stored in our body. I won’t negate or minimize that introspection can be an overwhelming and difficult experience. It is, and I would like for you to sit back and slowly acknowledge the emotions currently coming up for you this holiday season. Acknowledging your emotions and experiences is the first step in your healing process. With the use of these questions as a guide, I leave you with an invitation to begin or continue your journey into self-exploration.
Jacqueline Ochoa is a School Crisis Response Clinician in The Guidance Center’s Long Beach School-Based Program. As a School Crisis Response Clinician she provides additional support to students during a mental health crisis by assisting staff in de-escalating, restoring, and promoting emotional and behavioral regulation. She is especially passionate about working with adolescents and their families in navigating acculturational differences that may impact relational dynamics, communication, anxious, and depressive symptoms. Before joining The Guidance Center team in 2019, Ochoa worked with families and adults as a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate. Ochoa earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Human Services, a Bachelor’s of art in Psychology, and a Master’s in Counseling at California State University, Fullerton.