Coping with Holiday Emotions


Antony Sheehan, President & CEO, South Shore Mental Health

Antony Sheehan, President & CEO, Aspire Health Alliance

The other day, I was blow-drying a live chicken.

When my family moved into our house, we inherited six chickens, and one of them is Rita, the chicken I was blow-drying. Now, chickens aren’t “wicked smaaart” animals (as we have learned to say in Boston), and Rita is fairly well down the pecking order even as far as chickens are concerned. She’d gotten a bit muddy and couldn’t move very well.

So we scooped her up and took her into the house. We proceeded to wash and blow-dry our chicken. After just a few minutes, it was clear Rita enjoyed it. This was quite the life compared to the muddy coop. Rita simply stood there, enjoying the warm updraft.

As I watched how much Rita enjoyed being in the house and basking in all the attention, I realized that one of the things I have never been able to live with easily is the thought of anyone being stuck, alone, and overwhelmed.

I loathe loneliness. Its impact is so great, and at this time of year it’s even more pronounced.

December presents a mixed bag of expectations. Holiday movies, or even 30-second commercials, tell us we should have warm, fuzzy feelings. But what about those who struggle during the holidays?

What about fractured families? What about loss that is heightened because a person is missing, or employment is missing, or love is missing? What about the expectations that traditions will mean something, but somehow they fall flat? What about expectations that we should have the best lives, but the reality is that we don’t have the best lives, and we feel that we are not deserving?

Yes, you are deserving. Of a good life. Of meaning. Of significance. Of love.

If your expectations for the holidays are stuck in the mud and, like Rita, you could use an updraft of warm air, here are five strategies that can help you find some peace in the season:

Name where you are. If you are grieving, don’t turn away from your grief. If a life change makes the season hard this year, name it. You don’t have to carry on as if the mud didn’t happen.

Receive comfort. Drive around to see the lights. Enjoy a concert, a meal with a friend, or practicing your faith. Take the opportunity to express kindness to someone else. Pursuing something that brings you comfort can help restore meaning.

Maintain your healthy habits. Go for a walk. Sleep. (Not at the same time!) Amid the holiday treats, be intentional about choosing wellness. Physical health plays a role in mental health.

Seek contentment. Striving for perfection isn’t worth it. You don’t have to do it all. If you want this time of year to mean something, choose how you will find and express meaning. Find your contentment there, not in achieving everything.

Talk back to yourself. When your inner voice says I am not deserving, talk back with a firm response: Yes, I am. If necessary, make it your holiday mantra to say morning, noon, and night: I am deserving.

I hope, like Rita, those who are feeling low on the pecking order can use these tips to find comfort during the holiday season. And, if you find that you need more help than these strategies can provide, Aspire Health Alliance is here to help.