Southern California is beautiful this time of year. The air is clean, the mountains are in clear view and the holidays are upon us.
For some of us, the holiday season doesn't bring on a happy mood. Instead it rings in a case of the blues. Feelings of sadness and angst settle in instead of excitement and cheer. Thoughts return to holidays past, to memories of when Mom and Dad argued at the Thanksgiving table. Maybe as a small child you curled up beneath the Christmas tree and prayed that they would get along, just once. Another person might recall when Aunt Lulu got so drunk she fell asleep while everyone was opening presents and Uncle George cursed her out. Others have lost love ones to death or separation and divorce, during this time of year. Whatever the memory, it wasn't positive.
Not everyone has bad feelings about the holiday season, but many do. Sadness and feelings of loss may move in like an uninvited visitor. A feeling of emptiness might come out of nowhere as the season changes from fall to winter. What is going on and what can be done to shake the sadness and enjoy this time of year?
Some people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, which is associated with seasonal changes that bring on shorter days and changes in the amount of light the brain processes which interrupts the body's bio-rhythms. There are companies that sell light systems that a person can use to get the needed light and elevate their mood.
Some people feel sad and don't know why. Others anticipate bad times. Unhappy holiday memories are stored in the brain with all the sights, sounds, and smells that went along with the original experience. When any of the senses pick up similar stimuli, old sensations get triggered and those memories tend to rise closer to the surface.
Bad memories are stored more vividly than good ones and are burned into the brain. The brain has been shown, in sophisticated brain scans, to actually heat up under circumstances or memories that are traumatic. The purpose of this mechanism is to protect us from trauma in the future by ensuring that we don't forget what happened. The problem is that sometime we feel like we are reliving it even when we are not.
Distraction is an excellent intervention that helps the brain refocus on something positive that will produce a feeling of well being and relaxation. I recommend that clients, who feel anxious this time of year, focus on the meaning of the holiday instead of the interpersonal interaction of the holiday events. For instance, focusing on peace instead of who will be or won't be at the Christmas dinner table refocuses their thoughts on something they have control over, and validates goodness in their lives instead of sadness. It helps some people maintain an even mood and avoid being re-victimized by their own memories.
Take a moment to do the following exercise. Close your eyes and picture a holiday word that has meaning to you. Hope, kindness, giving, peace, love, forgiveness are just a few. When you have the word in mind, identify each letter. Do you see the word in color or not? Are the letters big or small? Become aware of any feelings you have about the word. Now shrink the word so that it is very small. Then enlarge it until it fills the entire page of your mental scratchpad. Now picture the calendar and the holiday months. Move the word to the calendar and let it fill the holiday months completely. Now hold this image for as long as you can and let a feeling of security and well being spread through out you body. This simple exercise has helped countless clients and family and friends maintain an even mood and positive outlook throughout the season.
Have fun with it and Happy Holidays!