As joyous as the holidays can be, it’s also a difficult time for many people. We sat down with two of our center’s therapists, Ronna Evans, LCSW, and Deede Amhowitz, MA/MFT, to get their takes on what kind of issues people face the most during the holidays, as well as some great practical strategies for coping such as grounding our expectations, setting some boundaries, and making sure we take care of ourselves.
In Part 1 we talked a lot about coping with our families over the holidays. But what about those of us who might be alone during this time?
Ronna: People have very different attitudes about this, actually. Some appreciate the time to themselves and feel like “Hey, I finally get to rest and relax. I am purposely going to go to this cabin and just have alone time for a week.” But of course there’s many people who struggle with being alone over the holidays.
Deede: I think it also depends on what people celebrate. Some people think Christmas is just a day. It’s just a Sunday. December 25th is just a day to them. It comes back to expectations. And if they want to celebrate and be around people and they can, that’s great – but if they want to and they can’t, that’s of course where it becomes an issue.
So what can someone do if they’re struggling with being alone during the holidays?
Ronna: You know, people can be very self-judgmental about being alone during this time. If I can get them to be less judgmental, often times the loneliness is much less of a struggle.
Deede: Some of my clients don’t have family around, so they’ll try to spend time with their chosen family or their friends or a friend’s family, which of course are all great options. But if those aren’t possibilities, then self-care is really important. For instance, there have been times when I’ve been alone on Christmas. Maybe it’s a year where we celebrated with my family on a different day, or maybe it’s a year where I don’t have Madison, my daughter. In that case I might go to a movie or treat myself to something else special. I would really make self-care a priority. Maybe that means going out to a nice dinner or getting a massage, but it could also mean going on a hike, playing music or being creative – it really depends on the person.
What is it about self-care that’s so important? What does it really do for people?
Deede: Self-care helps us to re-center, to get our balance back, to rejuvenate, to rest. Many people are so focused on their jobs, their partners, their families, their friends, or all of the above. They feel bad about taking time for themselves, like they should just always kind of be in service to everyone else, and that can be incredibly stressful and draining if time for self-care isn’t also made a priority sometimes. Obviously if your kiddos or husband or whoever need something urgent, yes, of course that’s important, but we’re usually better to be around when we take care of ourselves too.
There’s so much stress in our lives usually. It seems like self-care might be one of the few times we’re not thinking about stressful things or actively adding more stress.
Deede: Absolutely. People really need to learn not to feel bad about taking time for themselves. We really need this time.
Ronna, you spoke about being self-judgmental. Could you talk about that a little more?
Ronna: Definitely. I like to ask people whether their thoughts are helping or hurting. A really good book to reference here is The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer. He encourages us to look at our thoughts without any value judgments, to just see them like a witness. Seeing our thoughts from a distance, and with some neutrality, can really give us the chance to get out of negative patterns like self-judgment. I really recommend that book for anyone struggling with negative thoughts, though it’s a great book for many other reasons as well.
Deede, you have a skills-based approach to your therapy. What would you say to someone having negative thoughts about being alone over the holidays?
Deede: I think it really depends on the intensity of what they’re experiencing. Where it becomes dangerous and unhealthy is when the “Okay, I’m alone” spirals into “I don’t have anyone, no one loves me, I’m unlovable, I’m going to die alone, etc..” That’s when I would say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa” and try to put on some brakes. At that point, maybe it’s time to use some skills like CBT [Cognitive Behavioral Therapy].
We can use CBT skills to ask questions, like “What’s the truth here? What’s going on?” And maybe that spiral about being unlovable and dying alone turns into something like “Hey, yes, I am alone today, and I feel sad about that. However, I have people. I have friends or family, and dying alone really isn’t something I need to be thinking about right now.” People can go from A to Z way too easily in many cases, but using CBT skills can get you out of that spiral while still acknowledging the validity of your thoughts and feelings.
A lot to keep in mind for a time of year that’s supposed to be fun, right?
Ronna: Well, I would definitely question that in some cases. Maybe the dynamic in our family just isn’t fun – or maybe our dynamic with ourselves isn’t in harmony yet. So we have to look realistically at everything. It comes back to expectations again, and really having a grounded view that isn’t making things harder than they have to be.
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Thank you for reading!
Ballen Medical & Wellness
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