Life After the Holidays
There is a Rolling Stones song from the 70’s aptly titled “Coming Down Again”.
Being that it was the 70’s and it was the Stones, it was, of course, written about coming down from a chemical high of some sort.
But the music and some of the lyrics really captured the feeling of letdown that happens after a time of excitement, engagement, great expectations, hard work: something out of your regular day to day experience.
The Holiday season is all of those.
And the days and even weeks after are often a time of great let down.
Whether your holidays were wonderful and full of love and good feeling or terrible and stressful, or somewhere in between, the process of getting back to your regular routine (or lack of) can bring up a range of unpleasant and unexpected feelings.
Here’s a list of some of them:
Not a lot of fun!
Feelings like these can color everything. The littlest upset can feel like a tragedy. Your child’s crying can feel like a personal assault. Your partner’s flu can feel like abandonment. You can be so caught up in your own negative feelings that you find it hard to feel empathetic or compassionate toward the most important people in your life, who are also experiencing a range of post-holiday feelings.
And on top of it, you may be sick along with others in your household.
As the Rolling Stones put it, “Sky fall down again.”
As a parent, you know how important it is to be there for your kids. When you’re feeling down, it’s much harder. The question is, can you do anything about these feelings? The answer is yes.
Last year I wrote a blog post about “Beating the January Blues”, which gave some very concrete suggestions for feeling better. All of those suggestions are very useful and can make a real difference. This year, I want to add another perspective.
There is a great deal of research being done on the relationship between thoughts, physiological responses, and feelings.
A cycle has been identified that goes like this…
1.You think about something.
2. Your thoughts evoke emotions which you feel.
3. You feel them in your body. Feelings have a strong biochemical neurological component. We sometimes label it as:
A sinking feeling
Butterflies in our stomach
Punched in the gut
Tightness in our throat
A pounding headache
A “fog” comes over us
A pounding heart
Our body is “on high alert”
4. The more intensely you feel the feelings caused by your thoughts, the more the thoughts get reinforced, which intensifies the feelings, which intensify the thoughts and on and on.
5. You feel and think that you can’t get out of the feelings. The remarkable thing about being human is that our memories and thoughts about experiences can bring about as strong a response as the actual events. The sadness you felt when your family left can get replayed over and over again inside you, keeping the sadness going.
Likewise, the anger you felt at being responsible for all the shopping, cooking and cleaning for the holidays and no one helping you can also get replayed over and over again, keeping you trapped in the anger and resentment.
Break the cycle
So one trick to feeling better is to break – or, at least, interfere with – that cycle. When you find yourself in a negative feeling state, step back for a moment and be “the observer”.
1. Try to identify how your body feels and where the “feeling” resides in your body. If you don’t feel good, your body definitely feels it somewhere.
2. Really take a look at what is going on in your head. What specifically are you thinking, or thinking about.
Are you replaying a conversation?
Are you replaying a conversation wishing you had said something different
Are you replaying that fantasy conversation over and over in your mind?
3. Are you remembering the “thoughtless “ present your mother, mother in law, sibling, or partner gave you?
Are you giving that person an imaginary “piece of your mind “ over and over again?
4. Are you thinking about how much easier your friend’s life is than yours?
Are you feeling envious or resentful about that?
Are you telling yourself over and over again about how she doesn’t get how hard your life is?
5. Are you replaying your child’s “bad” behavior and how embarrassed you were?
Are you telling yourself what a bad parent you are?
Are you telling yourself how difficult your child is?
Are you comparing your child with your visiting sister’s child who was an”angel” the whole time?
I’m sure you get the picture.
Once you see yourself as the “observer”, when you can look at your thoughts from the outside, you can ask yourself:
Is this thought really true?
Is this thought helpful?
If there is a real problem, will this thought help me solve it?
Is there another way to think about this situation?
Is there another thought I can replace that thought with?
Can I say “hello” to that thought and then send it on its way?
There are many techniques that people find useful. Here are a couple of links that give some concrete suggestions, one from Dr. Barbara Markway, and one from Mrs. Mindfulness.
Personally, I use and have used virtually all of these suggestions and they really do work. It’s not something that changes overnight, but I find I get through negative thoughts and negative experiences much more quickly.
So as we are all ‘coming down again” from the holidays and entering into the coldest and darkest time of the year, try using some of the techniques mentioned here (and in last year’s blog) to help you and your family get through this season happily.
As I mentioned last year, if you are feeling down all the time, and nothing seems to make you feel better, you may be experiencing real depression and may need help. You deserve to feel well and your children need you to be well. Talk to your doctor or other health practitioner and get the help you need.
And remember always… go outside and play!