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Holidays Can Be a Mix of Emotions

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Women staring out of a window next to a decorated Christmas tree.‘Tis the holiday season and everything is merry and bright. But for many, the buzz of family gatherings, managing travel logistics, questioning interpersonal safety and responsibility and heading off the shortfall of potential gift buying, the holidays can be quite stressful.


The holidays are also a time to reconnect with one another in meaningful ways; especially recognizing the significant stress we have all endured as a result of another year of pandemic and the strain of isolation, role and rule ambiguity and even dealing with losses, said Matt Brosi, Oklahoma State University Extension family sciences specialist.


“When things get hectic, some people often bury their emotions, put on their ‘survival’ hat, and simply go through the motions of celebrating the holidays without taking a moment to cherish those around us and some of the things we take for granted,” Brosi said. “If not already there, the level of stress often tips over into the ‘chronic’ realm, leaving us numb, burnt out and coping in maladaptive and unhealthy ways.”


All of these emotions keep individuals feeling isolated and disconnected from one another, and over time, even leads to feeling depressed. At the same time, it also keeps us from utilizing the moments together to not only release some of the buildup, but to also engage in meaningful ways and truly connect with one another.


“As we enter into the holiday season and begin to engage with our kith and kin – whether it’s by setting up decorations, cooking a turkey or traveling to have a meal with distant relatives – take a few moments to truly connect in vulnerable ways with one another,” he said. “These vulnerable connections are best described as ‘I-statements,’ in which the sharer simply makes a statement about something they think or feel with no expectation for reciprocity by the listener and without making concessions/excuses or blaming others for how you think or feel. Since you are the one reading this, you can’t wait for others to begin the process—it requires you to take the lead in establishing the connections with others by sharing first.” 


With an intimate partner, share how you may have felt alone this year at work and distracted at home; how you may have taken your marriage for granted or forgotten to say thank you for how much your partner does for you and the family; or how blessed you are in your partner’s willingness to put up with you!


With your children, tell them it’s ok to express themselves and how much you appreciate them opening up to you, or how proud you are of them – for their character (such as their giving/caring nature) or simply for being such a cool person (rather than for ‘doing’ something).


Tell an elderly family member how much you value their wisdom, leadership and nurturance for the family or how they are a model for you for how to live well.


“For my own parents, I’d consider them to still be ‘new’ to the state (they’ve been here for about 6 years now), but they make instant friends everywhere they go. I believe this year, I will tell my parents that I truly admire them for the way they treat people and how much they give to others,” Brosi said. 


All of these statements are ‘openers’ to building deeper relationships and are the building blocks for conversations that heal the soul and aim to alleviate the stress that we feel when we are alone. It helps us feel connected with one another, helps to validate and normalize some of the stress we carry and just might help someone open up a bit more to address ways the isolation has affected daily life and mental health issues exacerbated by the pandemic.

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