As I get older, I love Christmas more and more. I cherish the togetherness, the comfort food, the cozy cheer. I love going home to my parents, getting tipsy on mulled wine, and watching the lights twinkle with my little brother. I love snuggling under blankets with my sister, nibbling mince pies and watching soppy movies. I love the whole month of December, where my street shimmers with Christmas lights.
But for many of us, Christmas is looking a little different. This year, I’m not even in the same country as my family, and I won’t be going home. Sitting at work in school, I wait to be told what to do next. I’ve already planned a Christmas bonanza for my students: socially distanced cards, snowmen stories, Christmas carols. Now, I’m not sure I’ll even see them again before the year is over.
Then my friend calls to tell me she won’t be visiting for Christmas but instead, she’ll be home alone. The highlight of her day will be ordering take-away. It’s been a long year, and this isn’t quite the festive feast we’d hoped for.
‘Nan and Grandad won’t be coming this year,’ my Mum tells me over the phone. It’ll be a much smaller Christmas than they’re used to. They’ll have a good time, watching movies and drinking wine, but it just won’t feel the same this year.
‘Still,’ Mum tells me. ‘Best to stay safe. No use crying about it. Got to make the best of it.’
“Got to make the best of it.” I’ve heard this before. After all, a lot of people are hurting right now; all I’ve got to cry about is a crappy Christmas.
It’s true – the coronavirus pandemic has led to a lot of very real suffering for far too many people. People have died; people are grieving loved ones; people have lost their jobs and their homes and their friends. Here at IMAlive we want to tell you – things suck right now for a lot of people, and that’s terrible.
We also want to tell you: you’re allowed to feel whatever you’re feeling right now. You may not be able to help it. If you’re heartbroken you can’t see your parents or grumpy with your partner because you’ve spent far too much time together, if you’re devastated because this won’t be the Christmas you hoped for – it’s okay. You’re allowed to feel that way even if there are people out there who have it much worse than you.
Trying to slap our emotions down like naughty puppies can seem like a great idea in the short term. ‘It’s ridiculous to feel like that,’ I’ve told myself before. ‘You’re obviously over-reacting. Stop that. Pull yourself together, woman!’
It makes sense. Negative feelings are uncomfortable; we want them to go away. We want to get on with our days. Especially at Christmas – a time for jolly festive feelings, not crying to yourself in the corner. However, attempting to slap down our negative feelings can actually end up making us feel much worse. Psychologist, Dr. Susan David writes that suppressing our feelings isn’t helpful or healthy. Sometimes, trying to slap down a negative feeling causes it to spring back even stronger.
Rather than trying to ignore or block these emotions, the best thing to do might be to acknowledge them. Dr. David advises taking the time to label your emotions carefully, a process she refers to as ‘emotional granularity.’ Rather than saying that you feel ‘bad’ it might be more helpful to say that you are feeling resentful, or lonely, or frustrated. Once we’ve acknowledged a specific emotion, she advises we have self-compassion. Rather than yelling at ourselves to get it together, we should be curious about what the emotion might tell us about our values or our situation. Emotions, she argues, are there for a reason; they are trying to tell us something. Perhaps they are telling you you’re missing something important to you. If you’re devastated you can’t see your family, it might be a sign that you really care about them, and love and connection are an important part of your life.
Sometimes, talking or journaling about how we’re feeling helps us to understand our feelings. Remember to check in with yourself this Christmas. Consider taking the time to talk to a friend or loved one, or spending some time writing and reflecting on how you’re feeling. If you need to chat about something going on in your life, however big or small, our volunteers are always ready to listen. You can start a chat at http://www.imalive.org.
Remember, you’re allowed to feel whatever you’re feeling. Take care of yourselves this Christmas.