If you are anything like me, the holidays can be a time where sleeping sad giants inside of you may become awakened. Anxiety, depression, stress, overwhelm… they can all come out to say hello.
We can feel deep grief come upon us. Despite all of the ‘holiday cheer’ around us, the holiday blues seems more accurate.
We can have activation of symptoms or exacerbations of our health challenges.
Often family conflict patterns are heightened.
All the while we are supposed to “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry!”
It can feel like a mind-fuck. That’s the truth. I use that phrase because it drives a point.
The mind can literally feel like it’s going crazy because there is INCONGRUENCY between what we are supposed to feel and what we actually do feel. And the body responds to it. And we don’t feel well.
Why do these holiday blues happen at Thanksgiving and Christmas? Why is the holiday season the highest rate of suicide?
Is it the darkness? No, because in Australia/southern hemisphere, people go through this too and it’s full of sunshine down there.
Is it because your family is screwed up and it’s their fault? No, because this is a global issue this time of year. Your family dynamic is no exception, many many families hurt each other during the holidays.
What is it that causes this season to be so tumultuous emotionally and physically?
It’s because of how the brain deals with expectation, awakened holiday memory structures that have ‘incongruent programming’, and our family/culture that we grew up in.
We grow up being taught that the holidays are supposed to “feel joyful and happy”. Yet there is often a stress-filled atmosphere during this season. And as children, we might think we just remember opening presents or celebrating, but our nervous systems could feel the stress of our family/parents/society during this time.
That conflict between “holidays are happy but people are all stressed” becomes cross-wired in our brain/body for some of us. The inner messaging in our memory structures might be something like this: “The holidays are when my family is stressed, or mom is sad, or dad is scared because he can’t afford gifts”.
Yet as a kid we were also feeling excited about gifts/celebrations at the same time. There becomes a resulting confusion or incongruency in the nervous system that gets associated with the holidays. This can result in body symptoms and mental symptoms around the holidays.
Also, the portrayal of how we ‘should’ have happy families during the holidays can be another source of negative cross-wiring that happens in the brain. I know this program was a big source of my holiday anguish. I also felt like I wasn’t good enough/deserving of a real family Christmas.
I still carry that shitty program in my head -“My family should be happy and feel so much love during for Christmas” I have to be mindful of it and not let it lead my expectations as I used to as a kid.
I used to always get really sick during the holidays. The Lyme/mold symptoms/CFS symptoms would flare. I usually would end up mostly in bed– every damn year. Until I saw the pattern and realized it was clearly coming from my brain/limbic system.
And once I understood the science of limbic system impairment, I understood why my brain and the memory reactivation would cause me to become so debilitated mentally and physically every year.
So what to do? Well here’s where I’d start…
1 – Realize you are running the “holiday programming” in your head.
Your memories, cultural programming, and holiday expectations are causing you to have internal conflict about what reality is vs what ‘should’ be happening during the holidays. Let that old holiday program go.
The holidays are a time to come together with intention, but it doesn’t mean your family will magically heal, your heart will be cured, and you will feel merry. It’s a time to just be together and celebrate life as it is… messy and beautiful, and celebrate the divine in your own way. You might feel good. You might feel bad. And both are okay.
That leads me to the second point, and the most important thing I did to get out of the holiday hell that would come upon me every year:
2 – Can you allow the holidays to be a mixture of pain and joy?
I had to let go of expecting that I would feel any way other than what I did, especially if I was hurting, AND at the same time, find the gratitude for life, family, God, whatever! I allowed myself to see that there is no perfect family, perfect Christmas, and let it all go.
I focused on what mattered most, and let my body do whatever it wanted to. So that meant sometimes I just focused on my kids and their experience, and let go of my own expectations of how maybe I never got a card/gift from my own family.
Or maybe I would let myself grieve/cry for 30 min on Christmas Day for what I didn’t have, and then put a container around it and focus the rest of the day on what I did have that was beautiful in my life. In other words, I didn’t let what was wrong override the whole holiday. I let go of expecting that “family should do x, y,z because it’s Christmas”.
3 – If you are having body symptom flares, please know how common this is during the holidays.
It’s part of the classic pattern of limbic system impairment– the body is reacting to the inner emotional turmoil associated with the holidays. It will pass, especially as you allow all emotions to be okay.
Let go of the belief that you shouldn’t feel sad because it’s the holidays, and stop any blame with others for ruining your holidays. Let the holidays be the shit show of emotions that they usually are in families! And step out of the drama and find the beauty and gratitude that is available even when you don’t feel well or when you hurt.
The holidays are a time to recognize the gift of life. The gift of life is there whether you are sad or happy, sick or well, divorced or married. It’s there. And life includes all the emotions, all the experiences, it’s not just merry merry, joy joy.
Celebrate reality as it is and intentionally find a way to see the love that is around you. It’s there. Maybe it’s just the moonlight peeking down on your face, but it’s always there.
Lastly, if you are struggling right now, you are so not alone. That’s why I wrote this, to bring awareness to the holiday suffering that happens because of the way our brain is wired and the programming we’ve grown up with. You can rewire your holiday experience. I did and I still do.
It’s much more real, and now more beautiful than it ever was because I include all of my reality in my Christmas experience without telling myself “this shouldn’t be like this” anymore.
You are loved. You matter. All of your feelings belong. And you are not alone this holiday season.
Wishing you a holiday where I hope you can embrace the messy humanity/divinity of life and discover the beauty hidden within all of it.
Dr. Cathleen King is the founder of the Primal Trust Academy & Community – a revolutionary online neuroplasticity platform for those dealing with chronic illness and trauma patterning. Her programs teach brain retraining, polyvagal theory, somatics, and inner healing processes to help others get back to living a life they love.
Learn more at: www.primaltrust.org