Around this time of year, our environment sends us many messages about how we’re “supposed to” feel, act, and embrace winter holidays. We’re inundated everywhere we go with visuals of families together, happiness, and celebration. What this storyline fails to recognize, however, is that many of us experience a range of emotions over the holidays that also includes sadness, grief, anger, disconnection, and anxiety, to name a few. It is really important to practice validating our emotions as they come up over the holidays, and consider making a little space for them. 

We each have varied experiences of being with friends and family members, and checking in with ourselves during a gathering or meal can help us decipher how we’re feeling and what we need. If you notice yourself feeling connection or gratitude, try leaning into the moment with the ‘Participate’ skill–throwing yourself into the present moment, while being unmindful of worries. If a conversation becomes tense or offensive, you fear that conflict is rising and staying put will bring you distress, or you have urges to get into an ineffective argument, try catching internal “red flags” signaling something different is needed in the moment, and step away. This might mean going to the bathroom to take a few breaths and ask yourself “What do I most need right now?” It may also mean removing yourself from the situation and taking some space, ending the call, or leaving early. In these moments of big emotions, one of the most self-compassionate things you can do is listen to your needs and be gentle with yourself. Practicing a brief self-compassion break can help you deliberately take some space and check in with yourself. (Video linked below). 

For many of us, the winter holidays bring up a sense of isolation, especially for those of us with strained or disconnected families. Since one of our deepest human needs is connection, we must often find creative ways to fill this need, especially when there are holes left behind from connections lost. In DBT, one skill to distract from painful emotions and act on our values is the skill of contributing. In doing something kind or thoughtful for others, we are putting out positivity and connection and in return receiving a sense of meaning. Consider becoming pen pals with folks who are currently incarcerated; volunteering in some capacity for a nursing home, care facility, humane society, or nonprofit; calling up a distant friend or relative; or dropping off baked goods for a neighbor. Small acts of kindness and connection serve both you and the other. Another skill that can distract us from getting stuck in feelings of isolation is the skill of activities. Are there hobbies you currently have or interests you could pursue? Activities can be done solo (e.g., reading, playing an instrument, cooking) and can be done socially (e.g., playing chess or other games, meeting up with a friend for a walk, playing with a pet, joining a club). Public Libraries are often a fantastic resource for finding ways to connect with the community and participate in activities in your area.  

Whatever the coming weeks look like for you, we hope you are able to experience your emotions with compassion, listen to your needs, and take good care. 

Mindful Self-Compassion Break (Chris Germer):

RAIN of Self-Compassion (Tara Brach):