I feel guilty admitting this. While living a life overflowing with love and opportunity, a few times this holiday season I felt downright sad. I know our moods can be swayed by shortened hours of daylight, cold-numbed digits, too many tasks and too little time. But I believe my bouts with the holiday blues stem from the nearly universal experience of having known tragedy or loss in life.
This season asks us to reflect, recall and resolve. Who is able to remember only the happy moments of any story? Life is not so neat. As we think back – and even present – our minds will likely rub against the irritants of disappointment as well as loved ones absent, in pain or danger or gone completely from our lives.
It is natural to grieve our losses. Though sometimes painful, this sort of personal stock taking is essential to improving our mental and physical well-being. Looking at the story of our lives with unflinching eyes allows us to recognize our errors, make amends and live lives in greater harmony with our principles.
But sometimes – especially amidst the swirling festivities and expectations of the winter holidays – the instructive pain of self-reflection can overwhelm our senses and leave us wallowing in despair and even depression.
To encourage constructive contemplation that doesn’t dethrone our joy, I would like to share some discoveries I have made.
When a memory arises that is unpleasant, experience it. Don’t mask the sensation by reaching for sugar, alcohol or other numbing agent. Distraction can never go the distance and resolves nothing. You come down or wake up to the same dilemma, now complicated by regret and with your personal power compromised by overindulgence.
When I say experience memories as they arise, I mean watch the entire film. Don’t shortcut the story by viewing only the highlight reel. And don’t seek to validate your past actions by replaying only the sections of the story that build your case.
If a troublesome memory arises, your mind is likely struggling with an inconsistency within it. Try to remain on the sidelines. Watch the action as an outsider, taking careful note of any nuances you may have missed at the time or any instances when your motives or actions were less than authentic.
The discoveries you make can help break the hold of the past over your present life and happiness. Once your mind offers alternatives to reconcile the situation or is satisfied that you have done your best, you will be amazed how rapidly your melancholy evaporates.
If you discover the need for a course correction, make it. Apologize, extend a hand, keep a promise, honor someone’s memory, take whatever steps necessary…and do so without delay or compromise. Only robust, thorough and life-affirming action can reclaim your joy.
Don’t flog yourself or judge your past behavior. Don’t keep rewinding and replaying moments that make you feel like utter trash. Bury grievances, don’t accumulate them; and don’t torture yourself with their sting. We all mess up. Take every opportunity to correct a situation, and then let it go. What is beyond our control is beyond our control. Indulging in self-flagellation when other options are exhausted is like picking scabs; it interferes with the healing process.
If the difficult situation may only be laid to rest through grief and time, take the time to do the grieving. But don’t let your sadness blot out the good currently in your life. Realize that we grieve for what we have lost. That perhaps a better option is to turn grief for our losses into gratitude for what we have enjoyed.
Consider honoring what is gone by becoming a force for good. Above all else, take the time to do things for others. We can easily get lost in our pain. Becoming aware of and lessening the suffering of others is the best alleviator of grief.
If this advice comes too late as you have already changed your address to down in the dumps, there are still ways to get moving again.
When you want to go to bed, go out instead. We are social animals who need others. By setting your cares aside long enough to be good company, you may find that those same cares don’t return immediately when you return home. Don’t wait to be called or expect the world to reach out to you. Pick up the phone, write the email or make the plan that gets a friend or group of friends together. You must ask for what you need.
Make positive movement. Don’t run away from your problems, but toward a desired goal. Try to sweat from physical exertion at least once a day. And until prolonged daylight and warmer weather can cheer us naturally, keep warm, invest in full spectrum light bulbs and de-stress your life to give yourself a fighting chance.
Despite and – in some part – because of my holiday blues, this New Year’s will find me grinning widely, being grateful for the surplus of good in my life and looking forward to an even better year with my past disappointments resigned to the past.