‘Tis the season to be miserable.
I practice thankfulness. I get outside in the sunshine. I eat an extra cookie. I feel bad about that, then I eat an extra salad. I feel empty after that, so I eat an extra turkey leg.
Extra, extra, extra.
‘Tis the season to overdo just about everything. What’s your extra?
My biggest extra is overdoing it with expectations of myself. I’m a mother to three small children, and a wife to a dear man whose work demands long hours at Christmastime. Thus, I feel the weight of making Christmas happen squarely on my shoulders. The expectations dog-pile onto me. They sit heavy on my belly at night. They tackle me while I’m half-asleep in the morning.
I feel chased and defeated.
And – lest I forget – there is an entire LIFE to lead outside of all of the extras. It’s a life that will be waiting for me in January, holding a list of all the things I left to rot while navigating the season.
Part of me sees the usefulness of festivities to bolster our spirits during these dark, difficult winter months. Part of me aches to connect with Jesus and experience the joy of his birth. Part of me wonders if I am genuinely a Grinch. And part of me just wants a nap.
Here in California, after we went through the North Bay fires, I am reading articles in the local paper now, citing that mental health issues are emerging as the next wave of processing life after the fires. People are experiencing depression, loss of/or excessive appetite, sleeplessness, trouble thinking, isolation, etc. The local resources for mental health are reporting that they are swamped with people trying to figure out how to deal with life.
Add Christmas expectations, whether or not you lost your home, and there is a recipe for a giant need of something to get us through.
Let me tell you what works for me. It’s not magic. Winter is still, in fact, upon us. But it helps keep me grounded, and mentally healthier. Here is a list of my own things I do:
- Pray. This is awesome. Jesus loves me like crazy and isn’t afraid of my emotions. Or yours for that matter. It can look like yelling, whining, pitching a fit, crying, or sitting peacefully like the Virgin Mary. Jesus is not afraid of my emotions and frustrations, and I have to get them out if I’m going to work past them and get to him. He loves me. He loves you. He cares about this collective trauma we have experienced.
- Pet my cat. I bought a rescue cat a few years ago. It seems like, whatever happened to him before I brought him home, he never completed his bonding phase of development. Thus, he is ever-clingy and ever gentle. He has a black patch of fur below his nose that looks like a permanently crooked mustache. My little old-timey movie villain.
- Build a fire in my wood-burning stove. It’s a fire I can control. Staring into it’s flames mellows my heart. Loading more logs feels tactile, grounding: Lifting heavy wood, splintery and sharp, smelling of dust and dirt and pine and oak. The heft and shove, the poke and fit. Pulling out the choke to tamp down the flames into a slower, deeper burn. It all feeds my sense of warmth, of life, of purpose in a primal indigenous cavewoman sort of way.
- Rubbing my own feet. I don’t understand it, but it feels great. And I don’t have to ask anyone else to do it. When it’s just me, I’m always happy to oblige.
- Stretching. It pulls me back into this body, into real time, into the sensations of muscles and sinews that hold this body together.
- Running outside. Okay, it doesn’t happen super often, but when it does, I always feel better in my mind. Like, I know what’s for dinner, and I get more writing ideas.
- Asking for nice long hugs from my husband. There are studies that say a hug shared for longer than 30 seconds actually changes something physiologically in our brains. Because of this, I hug my kids as long as they’ll let me. It’s for their health!
Expectations are not tangible. I cannot fold them like laundry or sautee them like broccoli.
But bringing my focus back to what is tangible (a cat, a fire, a jog) grounds me in right now. It feels good, like my wiring is functioning within the scope for which it was designed. I was made to pay attention. I was made to notice. I was made to work with my body, and to relate to world greater than me.
Emotions are important to process. But one tool of processing them is to ground myself in the tangible world. People call this mindfulness. Finding a pleasurable, healthy activity, helps to balance the feelings of brooding.
Coming into the light of the sunshine, of relationships, and the salvation of my soul, does wonders to chase away the darkness and cold.
“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” 1 John 1:5-7