Today there are 9 hours, 23 minutes, and 55 seconds of daylight, but who’s counting? The limited daylight is one facet of why this time of year can be so difficult, but mostly I think it’s because there’s So. Much. Pressure…. And if we are feeling lack in our lives, it gets emphasized.
We have pressure to show up more – to holiday events and gatherings.
If we have strained relationships, we feel extra strain as we struggle to find the balance of keeping the peace and taking care of ourselves.
Gift giving is a minefield of choices to make, financial pressure, presentation, trying to remember what so and so gave you last year. Or, if you are feeling isolated, that is emphasized by a period of time focused on coming together.
And it’s dark. And it’s cold.
And people are asking how you are doing and what you’ve been up to. But you haven’t been doing great and don’t want to talk about what you’ve been up to because you’re struggling. You feel like the camel that cannot handle one more straw.
Yet the straws keep coming.
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It’s no secret that the holidays are difficult.
It’s one of those canned statements that we often hear, yet we fail to devise adequate ways to meet ourselves in the muck. I’ve been in the muck, and from talking with friends, clients, and from being me, I know that a common way we meet ourselves when we are struggling is to get frustrated with ourselves for struggling.
(Imagine you are this cute turtle – it would be hard to be frustrated with this cute turtle stuck in the muck)
Getting frustrated with ourselves is often an automatic response. Much like we thoughtlessly swat away a mosquito buzzing around our heads, we mindlessly swat at ourselves for struggling. In the midst of difficult emotions, we say “I need to be more on top of my laundry!” or “I feel like I’m not good a enough friend” or “I need to exercise more” or any other statement that affirms to ourselves that we are falling short and we need to try harder. The feelings of frustration and self-rejection pile on top of the struggle, our symptoms get worse, and the cycle repeats.
In a recent session, a client talked about how she was focusing on just doing enough. Sometimes just doing enough means throwing more cat litter on top of the litter box instead of fully changing it. Or letting yourself leave dishes in the sink and just wiping down the counter. Or organizing your piles of laundry into neater piles of laundry when you can’t put them away.
If you are feeling lonely, a self-compassionate step would be to reach out for support. Maybe it’s to a friend you’ve lost touch with, maybe it’s finding a volunteering event where you can be around others, or maybe it’s connecting with a therapist. Maybe it’s just sitting in a coffee shop to people-watch.
In our struggle, we can find the middle ground. We can try our best, be kind to ourselves, and it will be good enough.
Some amount of pressure is helpful to motivate us; the problem is when the pressure is combined with our negative core beliefs about ourselves. We find ourselves in a no-win spiral of impossible (often self-imposed) expectations. I propose we strive for balance.
Acknowledge the things that are stressing you out: financial pressure, chores, social commitments, etc., but do so in a way that honors your limitations without judging them.
Meeting ourselves in the muck means acknowledging where we are at, what we need, and what we feel able to do without judgment.
Sarah Tronco, LCSW, author of Wildly Wise: Trusting the Nature Within provides online counseling in New Jersey and works to develop a strong therapeutic relationship with her clients, which helps to create a secure place where individuals can achieve meaningful change.
Sarah Tronco, LCSW, now also provides online counseling in Pennsylvania, contact her to learn more.
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