Surviving the holidays: How Christmas toys with our emotions

Surviving the holidays: How Christmas toys with our emotions

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Image by Tim Sarnoff
Image by Tim Sarnoff

WASHINGTON, December 17, 2014–December can be a mixed bag of feelings and emotions for anyone, but especially for those who celebrate Christmas. The holidays send your emotional self in several directions, some more pleasant than others. Being aware of all that tugs the heart-strings during the Christmas season can normalize the up, down, and sideways ricochet of happy and not-so-happy holiday moods.

Christmas is a time of nose-talgia. Memories are emotional and quickly triggered by familiar scents. Think of peppermint and pine, cookie dough, and cookies baking, hot apple cider or cocoa, bayberry candles, ham in the oven, an uncle’s pipe smoke, or wood smoke. Homes, restaurants, stores, and the office, offer the smells of Christmas past as we sniff our way through the present.

Another omnipresent emotional instigator is music. It bypasses our thinking mind and goes straight to the heart. Christmas music is played not only at home, but everywhere you do business. Though songs do not necessarily spark specific memories, they do re-create remembered feelings of holidays gone by. Even unfamiliar Christmas music will light up our emotions simply because humans respond to beautiful sound.

Traditions can be comforting, bittersweet, pleasurable, or a snore. Holiday traditions provide a sense of history and connection, and we never forget the traditions we observed through childhood. Maintaining tradition can set off warm feelings but also reminds us of those no longer around to celebrate. Unfortunately for some, traditions can provoke disturbing thoughts and feelings.

Looking at tradition naturally leads us to the family. We all play a particular role in our family, and families develop set ways of communicating amongst themselves. When we reunite during Christmas it is natural for individuals, and the family unit, to function as they always have. What is familiar can be comforting or aggravating or both. A family can stir up a cornucopia of feelings in the space of one hour.

The approach of Christmas fills many of us with expectations. There is one problem with expectations. They frequently fall short of what is expected. Getting ready for the holiday is like riding a roller coaster up the giant hill of anticipation. Then, the celebration begins and you fly down the other side. You can plan when to get in the coaster and who sits by who, but you cannot control how everyone will think and feel. When the ride is over, many children and adults grieve the loss of anticipation.

Expectations can be especially problematic if you are a perfectionist. Among all your other holiday feelings, you will also have to endure the tension and anxiety of wanting everything to be perfect and doing everything possible to make sure it is and doing last minute shopping to get the kind of olives your brother likes though you don’t have time and what if people are late and the dinner is ruined after all that work and oh, better check the bathrooms. Remind yourself that no one loves you because things are perfect. They love you.

When Christmas arrives, it is almost the end of the year. For you the New Year may be a time of fun, planning, partying, or curling up with a bowl of popcorn and watching It’s A Wonderful Life one more time. There are people who dislike facing the new year and once the packages are opened, and the pudding devoured; it has to be faced. Plus, many of us dread the “doldrums” of January.

Because we are surrounded by emotional triggers in December, it is natural to have shifting and conflicting emotions. The best thing to do is accept them and not expect them to be other than they are. All feelings are a normal, sometimes difficult, part of the human experience, even during the hap-happiest season of all.

If you are struggling with sadness this holiday season, find help at Help For Depression


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