Don’t look now, but here comes Thanksgiving!
When you are already in survival mode, a holiday can add insult to injury. If you are bracing for the holidays as a newly divorced family, maybe spending your first Thanksgiving without your kids or extended family, “celebrating” anything can seem absurd. Forced festivities can increase the sense of what’s missing and highlight not only what you are not grateful for, but what you’re actually pretty pissed off about.
During the holidays there is an expectation or even social insistence that you feel one thing when you’re actually experiencing quite another. That disconnect can be difficult to tolerate much less navigate. Here are just a few recommendations to normalize this experience and help us all get through the holiday intact.
1. Take it in small bites; which is also good advice for your digestion on this holiday anyway. How you may or may not be feeling this holiday is no indication of how you will feel in a week, a month, or for any other Thanksgiving hereafter.
Be invited to back away from a sense that this experience is prescient of the rest of your life. It is just right now that needs to be dealt with. And deal with it we will!
2. Trying to force yourself to feel anything other than what you’re actually experiencing tends not to work. It also tends to be a way of devaluing and negating yourself, and that’s something most of us do not need a repeat experience of.
Rather than forcing yourself to contrast how you would like to be or feel with how you actually feel, put your attention on being kind to yourself as you would a dear friend or beloved pet. Keep this simple. Check in with yourself frequently. Make yourself a cup of tea. Even treating yourself with more patience by giving permission not to rush is a kindness we rarely afford ourselves.
3. Do something that will distract and give your overstimulated emotions a break. Whether that’s watching a funny, stupid, scary or thrilling movie, or hiking with a group through the woods, do something that introduces another aspect of your capacity and emotional range. This can help create internal space and balance in a way that focusing on what’s wrong cannot.
4. One of our best resources is our own bodies. A simple, effective way to ground yourself and manage difficulty is through bodily awareness. A little bit of movement and physical activity can be enormously helpful. Even tapping your left then right foot several times while bringing your attention to the sensation of contact with the ground beneath can help stabilize run-away emotion. The body returns us to our connection with the earth and this moment.
5. Be here now. Focus only on this moment; this hour, what you’re doing now, staying away from a global interpretation, because our minds tend to go there when we’re feeling distraught.
6. Finding our way to gratitude when feeling like a curmudgeon is more like it. Let’s interact with gratitude by keeping it small and specific:
What am I grateful for right this minute?
It might be that you have a cell phone. It could be that you don’t have a cell phone. It could be that you have feet, if you have feet, or that you have a car that you were able to drive wherever you needed to go. It could be that you’re able to breathe easily and are over last week’s cold.
The act and importance of gratitude has more to do with reorienting ourselves to experiencing the fullness of what we already have rather than doing an actual tally. It’s a shift in how we relate to what is already here for us. It can be simple and basic; the sun rose and the moon is still held in the sky.
Or perhaps it can be wildly inventive. I for one am grateful I’ve never had to undergo an exorcism or be aboard an alien spacecraft (although some who know me may think that’s how I arrived here). I’m grateful not to be a giant octopus or sardine (they may be perfectly joyous but I think I would be cold).
All of these are just suggestions to help you navigate if you’re having a rough go during the holidays, particularly during Thanksgiving, when you might be put upon to identify what you appreciate.
This is holiday first aid.
If you’re having a marvelous holiday, good on you! You can disregard all of this. Feel great and rejoice! Extend extra kindness to those who need it.
Wishing everyone peace and love, now and in the future. A grounded, supported, and above all gentle Thanksgiving to all.