Managing Our Feelings Around the Holidays After 50

family self-care Nov 20, 2022

 

Throughout my life, I have been that annoying person who, the day after Halloween, starts playing Christmas music.   My tree is always up before Thanksgiving, much to the dismay of my husband.   I have always loved Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. 

I've also had extreme stress around the holidays throughout my life.  

I am finding as I get older and my circumstances are changing, that stress is less.  

Which I find interesting.  So, me being me, I took some time to reflect on what's gotten me to where I am today with "holiday feelings."

What I've realized is that my "holiday feelings" and experiences have been a more intense extension of how I was feeling and reacting on a daily basis depending on which phase of life I was in.

 

Childhood

Every Christmas, I looked forward to going to my grandmother's.  I loved being there. The tree.   The presents.   The dinner.   It was everything that a kid could want every year.   

At least, on the surface.

As I really reflect on it, I realize that it wasn't everything a kid could want.  I had stress and worry around my mother's drinking.   Would she drink?   Would I say the wrong thing?  Would my grandmother get upset?   Everyone else seemed stressed and unable to fully enjoy the holiday and I felt that, growing up.

I had the need to do what I could to protect everyone.   Even as a young child.

There was a lot of good to remember.   But there was a lot of stress, as well.

Mommyhood with Babies Through High School

I went nuts with the holidays while my kids were growing up.   We lived in a neighborhood with tons of kids and Halloween was a huge deal.

Thanksgiving dinners were at our house each year.   My then husband and I would start cooking early in the morning.   The Macy's Parade was on, followed by football all day long.

We hosted a neighborhood Christmas party each year for a while.  Christmas day was full of presents followed by a huge Christmas dinner.  

We lived the holiday dream.

But, here's the thing.   As I look back on this phase, I realize that I was so busy checking everything off of my "to do list.   I was stressed.   I was tired a lot of the time.  My anxiety during this phase was at an all time high.   And, as was the case throughout my entire life until recently, I didn't stop to take it all in.  I wasn't present.   I often failed to seize the joy in all of the moments.

I was often too busy trying to control everyone or worry about the interactions and dynamics between various family members.

I am not someone who has many regrets.   But, this is something that I would go back and change if I could.   In me.   For me.

Kids Were Young Adults

Our family went through a bit of an upheaval while my boys were in college and young adulthood.   My husband and I got divorced and our family was trying to navigate what that would look like moving forward.   For awhile we continued to celebrate the holidays together, but this ended as the boys graduated and had fiancees and then wives.  

During this time, I would see them the Friday of Thanksgiving and at some point on Christmas, if they were in town.   

This was a difficult time for me, holidaywise and, in general.   It was much different from the "busyness" that I experienced while the boys were growing up.  It felt lonely.  

It led me to question my choices, at times.  Not regrets, exactly.   More uncertainty.

Yammihood and On

And here we are.    I am happily married with 5 grandchildren.   Everyone descends on our home on Thanksgiving day each year.  I play with the grandchildren, the boys watch football, we drink warm sangria, and my daughters in law take over the kitchen and cook and chat.

I am tearing up as I type this.   Thanksgiving is my favorite.   

And, my stress level is considerably less.   About interactions.   About what time the meal is going to be ready.   About whether the kids are warm enough.   

They have parents there to worry about those things.   I'm there to look at my legacy and be joyful in it.   To play with my grandchildren.  To rest my back when I need to and know that that's okay to do.  

I do my cooking at my own pace the day before.   I order the turkey from the grocery store and pick it up carved and ready to go.  We even do a tofurkey each year because all of my kids and grands are vegetarian.   And it all works.

And Christmas, they all stay home.   I visit who I can when I can.

As I think about how I feel on the holidays as they are now, I can say that I am more present than ever before.   I won't say I'm stress free but I am significantly less stressed than I have ever been.   

But, there is a certain something.   I don't know if I'd call it a loneliness?   I'd say more of a sadness when it's over.   Because I realize now that we never really know what the next year will hold.     

The pandemic taught me that.   Turning sixty has also caused me to give it much more consideration.

Which is why my philosophy of being present has been a game changer for me. I'm feeling less stress and more joy in each day and each moment.  

Here's What I Know Now

Feel the Feelings

This is a huge issue in this community of women and one that I plan to create more content and materials around.

Many of us don't want to feel or acknowledge negative feelings.   

Even if they are valid.   

I was reading a Facebook post in another group written by a woman who was feeling sad because the holidays are coming and she lives far away from her children and grandchildren.   She's not super healthy and wasn't going to be able to see them this holiday season.    Many who responded had suggestions centered around being grateful, finding somewhere to volunteer, asking a friend if she could spend Christmas with her, etc.    All great suggestions.

I weighed in and said, "Don't forget to feel the feelings though!   It's okay to feel sad!   Anyone would feel sad.   You are not going to be with your loved ones during the holiday this year.   Feel the feelings and don't push them down.   Once you've really done that, then try some of these other suggestions!"

It is okay for us to feel sad sometimes.   Or angry.   When we repress these feelings, they will come out eventually somewhere else.  Or manifest physically.

Life is not always happy.   We are not meant to always feel happy!   

Take a REAL Look Back at Your Holiday History

There is a phenomenon that occurs in us called Fading Affect Bias.  This affects how we hold onto negative memories versus positive ones.   Essentially, as time goes by, the negative memories fade or disappear completely, while the positive ones remain.

When I started to write this post and was reflecting on my childhood holidays, I did this.   I immediately thought about my grandmother and how much I loved being with her.   I loved being with extended family, dinner, presents, all of it.  But, as I dug deeper, I began to remember the negative feelings, as well.

While focusing on and getting stuck in the negative feelings is not productive, it can help those of us who may be struggling this year.  It's not always a bad thing to realize that past holidays have not been perfect and have all come with issues.   And that we got through them and were okay. 

Being aware of these feelings and any core beliefs that we have as a result, can help us better manage our brains when we need to!  

Things Continue to Change and Our Brains Don't Approve

As we and those around us grow and change, so do our routines.   On this side of 50, chances are that your priorities are changing somewhat, which, in turn, affects your daily schedule and routine.

Our brains do not like change.  The amygdala in our brain perceives any change or deviation from our "norm" as an actual threat to our physical being.   Regardless of how minor the change may be!

This, in turn, releases the hormones that elicit our fight or flight response. 

Being aware of this can help you to continue to move forward with positive changes without giving too much attention and reaction to the fear and anxiety that can be created in the brain.   

Asking yourself and actually visualizing "what's the BEST that can happen as a result of what I'm doing" is a great tool.  

For example, let's say you are starting the new habit of walking as soon as you wake up.   You have it on your calendar each morning.  But, you also know that if people need things from you, you will move the walk and it may or may not happen that day.  

Asking yourself "what's the BEST that can happen" and really visualizing yourself losing weight, feeling happy and healthy, walking in the sunshine, feeling refreshed and invigorated can help you to continue on the path taking the action steps that you've set up for yourself.

Depression and seeking help

There is a difference between holiday sadness or loneliness and waking up each day feeling hopeless and stuck for an extended period of time.  I have been hearing from some in this community who I feel might benefit from seeking the help of a counselor.  It is no different from going to your general practitioner when you have a cold or the flu.

We do not deserve to wake up each morning stuck.  We could live another 30, 40, 50 years!   That's a lot of mornings to wake up feeling crappy and lost.

We all deserve, at this stage of the game, to wake up each day with something to look forward to.   Something on our calendar just for us!   Something that gives us joy to do or to be involved in.

Continue to reflect and write.  Make time for yourself to do this during the holiday season and throughout the rest of the year, as well.   

 

 

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