Dealing with Difficult Feelings at Christmas
Many people right now who are isolated from loved ones and feeling afraid about the future, making this Christmas especially hard. If you're finding this Christmas difficult, here are 2 things I want you to remember.
1. Respond in a way that reduces emotional intensity
Did you know that how you respond to difficult feelings can actually increase or decrease them? When we ignore your feelings, numb them or squash them, they won't go away. Rather, the opposite happens -- the brain turns the emotional volume up until you're forced to face how you feel. Acknowledging your feelings and allowing yourself to feel the way you do, on the other hand, reduces emotional intensity. I know this can be scary. I know it can feel like you will drown in those feelings of grief, loneliness, or despair -- instead, think of this as going through the emotion and out the other side. There's an inevitable release. Simply begin by naming the feeling: "helpless..." "devastated..." "lonely..." "exhausted..." Studies show that this emotional intelligence practice alone causes the feeling to soften. For some extra calm, take some slow, deep breaths and put a hand over your heart to activate the body's innate calming response.
2. Get the thoughts out of your head and onto paper.
Negative thinking is one thing that also increases emotional intensity -- but there is something that can make it better: Writing or talking about difficult feelings. When you are thinking about something painful, you typically slip into an unhealthy form of emotional processing that amplifies the emotion and only makes you feel worse. But research has found that writing or talking takes you into a healthy form of emotional processing, which reduces the feeling. So if the thoughts are racing around your head? You'll feel worse if they stay there. Instead, choose to write them down. Leave nothing out. And then throw the paper away. My clients tell me over and over what a relief it is to have left those thoughts on the paper (and I agree!). While it takes courage to write, about 1-2 hours later I usually feel like the weight has lifted. Alternatively, talk to someone. Reach out to those you love, or phone a helpline. Remember that your local mental health charity will have some (often free) services available should you need someone to talk to.
3. Further resources:
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I hope that this is helpful, friend, either for you or someone you know. Please share this blog with anyone who needs it.