It is 2021. New Year, New Beginnings… but same old feelings. You might be asking yourself, “When am I going to start to feel better?”
Can you believe we just celebrated the holidays during a pandemic? Are you one of those people who thought, back in March, “Oh, this will all be over by the summer. Schools will re-open by September. How long can this possibly go on for?” A lot of people felt that way. And yet, here we are. We celebrated the holidays during a pandemic. And not only that, but we also went back to strict restrictions and stayed at home orders while the numbers continued to rise. It is no surprise that we are still feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and depleted.
For some, this new way of doing things may have felt like a nice break from the big holiday gatherings and from the triggering conversations around politics, career goals, or who you are dating. It may have felt like a less stressful holiday season to keep it low-key at home. But still, most of us found ourselves missing our old traditions. And most of us attempted to compensate by going the extra mile when decorating our houses, getting loved ones extra gifts, and putting up the Tree in October. Whichever way you ended up spending the holidays, we still collectively experienced the holiday stress, just in a different global context. In January, no matter how simple your holiday season was, you may find yourself dealing with a holiday hangover.
An emotional hangover is a term used to describe how after an event is over, we find ourselves still feeling the emotional impact of that event. This can sometimes last for days, or sometimes for weeks. Holiday emotional hangover is an emotional state in which you might find yourself after the holidays are over. Sometimes the hangover comes from the dropoff after the rush of the holidays. If you spent the holiday season busy, comfortably distracted by all things related to holidays, the end of that period could feel lonely. It may feel like you are a fish out of the water, where you don’t know what to do with yourself or your time. Most people also find themselves exhausted from the high of the holidays, ending up in a state where they crash and can’t move a muscle to put any holiday decorations away. You know, that one house in your neighborhood that never takes down their holiday lights? They’re probably exhausted.
Holiday hangover can also show up as feeling “behind,” even before the next year has begun. You might find yourself pressured to figure out what you want to achieve for 2021. We are all used to this familiar pattern: by mid-December, everyone is sharing videos and tweets about vision-boards and the “word of the year.” While I find these practices helpful, I am also aware of the stress it brings in people to create their vision board, as if by January 1st, you are expected to know the vision for the whole year.
While planning the coming year month-to-month might be a challenge, it is considerably more difficult if we haven’t begun the process of moving forward from the end of the past year. Bringing residual emotion into the new year by way of an emotional hangover is not only limiting but exhausting and frustrating. Thankfully, some tools help transition out of the holiday hangover and into an optimistic new year.
Six ways to cope with the aftermath of the Holidays:
1. Name the emotion:
There are a couple of reasons why naming your emotions is the place to start. First of all, not everyone feels the same way about one specific event. Identifying for yourself what your feeling allows you to separate yourself from the pressure to feel a certain way or match your emotional state to others’ emotional states.
The fact is that human beings are complex and complicated, and there is no reason that any two people should have the same response to the same event.
When you give yourself permission to name the exact way you feel about a certain situation (instead of how you “should” be feeling or being busy with how others are feeling), you focus on yourself and your journey. This will give you the freedom to take ownership of that emotion.
Naming our emotions is also the starting place on how to understand, embrace, and accept a feeling. It is great to be able to identify that we are feeling a general sort of unhappiness. But to pinpoint the exact emotion(s) associated with that unhappiness can reveal far more information.
“I am annoyed. I am annoyed because my sister picked a fight with me at our New Year’s Eve Day Brunch” is far simpler to work with than, “I am unhappy, but I cannot identify the precise source; therefore, I cannot investigate my emotional state.”
Even the simple act of locating the source of a feeling can relieve anxiety; once we are aware that we are annoyed about a family incident, we can reassure ourselves that there is no larger, mysterious malady lurking. From the point of identification, we can embrace and accept what we feel.
2) Respond to it with compassion:
Hopefully, by now, it comes as no surprise to you that I bring compassion into the discussion. After all, compassion is the main ingredient to whatever you are working on. As mentioned above, whenever we are going through something, we often compare it to something else or someone else. Regarding emotions, we are quick to wonder if other people are feeling the same way or not. We often do that because we want to receive validation and reassurance that the way we are feeling is the right emotion. We want others to tell us that it is okay to feel this way. And again, by now, hopefully, you know that this is a recipe for disaster.
Validation must come from inside, not outside.
And that’s exactly what compassion does. Compassion gives us the means to self-validate and accepts our experience as they are non-judgmentally.
This can feel tricky or uncomfortable to do for ourselves, even if we would not hesitate to offer the same comfort and validation to a loved one. While we know we should have unconditional love and acceptance for ourselves; we may still be working on this concept. It might help to imagine that the person we love the most in the world is coming to us for support, decide how we would respond to that person, and then turn that same acceptance and affirmation inward for ourselves.
3) Feel your feelings through completion:
It is common and natural to cut uncomfortable emotions off before they are expressed and witnessed by ourselves or others. Nobody wants to feel depressed or betrayed or terrified.
When we feel anxious, we distract ourselves.
When we feel sad and need to cry, we hold back our tears.
When we feel scared, we pretend we feel strong.
When we feel hurt, we act as if nothing happened.
Our mind is wired to keep us safe and often sees unpleasant (aka negative) emotions as “bad” or “threatening.” So it says, “Don’t go there, don’t feel it.”
We avoid, reject, deny, distract, repress, or hide our emotions.
Where things go wrong is that we underestimate the power of the cycle of emotions. We begin to worry that, by accessing an emotion, we invite it to become permanent, but this is not the case. Every feeling that rises comes down. Every emotion passes. It is always temporary. You need to let the emotion do what it is supposed to do.
When we feel our feelings, they live their course and subsequently come to completion. Eventually, you stop panicking. Eventually, you stop crying. If you ride the wave of emotion, you ultimately get to the shore.
Feeling our feelings and allowing them to come to their natural completion is the only way to gain emotional intelligence and insight.
Through practice, you can learn to identify your feelings, accept them non-judgmentally, or engage in behaviors to help regulate them.
4) Move your body:
There is a difference between rest and stagnation. Rest is recuperative. Stagnation is debilitating. While the correlation between moving physically to unblock a mental or emotional pause may not make sense at first, the two can go hand in hand.
When I say to move your body, that does not mean to train for a marathon or join a very intense powerlifting club, though if those ideas appeal to you, they are worth exploring. Move your body as you are able, in ways that feel restorative. It may involve utilizing a gym (depending on the restrictions in your area). It may be as simple as going for a walk in the evening. It can be a slow walk, listening to peaceful music, and reflecting on the day. It doesn’t have to be a two-hour endeavor, just enough to change your scenery, get some fresh air, and warm your joints and muscles. You can even visualize yourself walking away from a holiday incident that left you feeling unsettled or frustrated.
In these lockdown times, it can feel almost impossible to go to the gym or for a walk around the block. The positive thing about so much of the world is locked down is that there is more accessibility than ever before to online content. If you cannot safely or comfortably leave your house, there are resources that range from free to affordable to expensive that show you all sorts of ways to move. Creative health and wellness professionals have come up with solutions for almost everything: no equipment, low equipment, limited square footage, mobility issues… there are even videos out there for how to get a good cardio workout without your feet leaving the ground (for those who are wary of stomping above their neighbors during a workout). No matter your fitness level, there is an online video for you on any one of a multitude of platforms.
Moving the body, elevating the heart rate, and expanding the lungs not only gives us a sense of connection with our body that can help us feel present but releases chemical compounds that elevate mood and regulate sleep; the two key factors in a happy and balanced lifestyle.
5) Stay in the present moment:
Dwelling on incidents from the holiday season can extend their life in a way that begins to take up too much mental and emotional space. Practice meditation and mindfulness to be where your feet are. As Tara Brach has beautifully said: “When you are in touch with your body and heart, it allows you to then be in the world and act with intention and clarity and kindness.”
In a moment of emotion, it can be easy to remember similar past incidents; perhaps your uncle has done something similar that upset you in the past. By staying in the present, our emotion isn’t compounded by past experiences or projected future incidents. We do not have to try to navigate our current feeling while also becoming buried under others we may encounter in the future. The existence of what we are feeling is not an indication of permanence.
The more precise our emotion is, and the more compact our experience with it, the easier it is to process and handle. When we do not stay present and focus on the emotion and its cause, we may find that emotion branching off to other incidents or other emotions. We might have been able to process and accept the first emotion; we are now frantically chasing the stream of feeling, playing tag with various memories and worries. To stop an emotion in its tracks and contain it to that particular trigger, incident, and/or time makes it far easier to resume our day. That’s not to say that this is an easy solution. Meditation can be tricky for some. But beginning with the mindful observance in real-time is a very manageable place to start.
6) Write it out:
Experiencing emotions in the quiet of your mind may offer privacy, but not necessarily catharsis. Speaking emotions out loud can feel inhibiting and lack organization. Whether in a freestyle or organized fashion, writing can be a hack to overcome both of these obstacles.
Writing is a private activity; taking time alone allows internal monologue to be communicated on the page and expressed without someone overhearing if that is a barrier. Whether writing takes the form of long-form prose, a flow chart, a poem, or any sort of format, the physical act of creating a concrete record of thoughts and emotions has been proven to be beneficial.
If thoughts and emotions feel jumbled, it can help to organize them by writing and grouping them. Having thoughts and emotions swirling in our mind can make them seem impossible to sort; it can give the impression that there is more at play than there might be. By pulling the information out of a jumble and articulating it, the churning waters of any emotion may be calmed.
Another benefit of writing about experiences and the emotions associated with them is that, in the future, the written record can be revisited. This can be helpful at times when you think you might never feel happy again; reading a time when you were very low and knowing that you got out of it can serve as a reminder of what is possible. It can also help establish a history of patterns; perhaps a holiday tradition is frustrating for you, and it might take reading a few years’ worths of entries to sort out why.
You may find yourself turning to one or two of these practices more often than the others or struggling with one or two more than the others. That’s normal and valid! I would encourage you to give each one a decent try, anyway. Sometimes in exploring outside of our comfort zone, we break patterns of stagnation or cycles of emotion that we might otherwise be stuck in.
No matter your reason for experiencing the emotional shift known as the Holiday Emotional Hangover, it is important to validate your state of mind by identifying how you feel and then allowing yourself to feel it. Tucking it away in a little box in your mind not only adds to the mental load you are carrying into the new year but leaves it lurking with the potential of being sprung open the next time the holidays roll around. You deserve the peace of mind that comes with processing and saying goodbye to the holidays’ emotional incidents. You are deserving of starting this year feeling refreshed and open.
Embracing You Therapy Group Practice
Here at Embracing You Therapy Group, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions, and we invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, EMBRACING imperfections to create a gentler place for CALM in your life.
At our mental health practice in Woodland Hills, CA, we offer individual therapy and couple’s therapy. Both Dr. Menije and Cindy Sayani, AMFT offer virtual therapy to treat mental health concerns include Anxiety, panic attacks, OCD, phobias, and stress; Mood disorders including depression; Relationship issues, both in couples therapy and with individual clients; Perinatal mental health issues such as postpartum depression or anxiety.
Let’s learn what drives your unique perspective on anxiety and stress, and then let’s find the tools-your unique tools-that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way.