Posted in Rambles

Why You May Feel Sad at Christmas (Part 2)

In part 1 of this post, I shared about the emotional struggles that I sometimes experience at Christmas time.  I identified two possible reasons why this may happen, and gave suggestions of how to cope.  To read it you may click this link:

Why You May Feel Sad at Christmas (Part 1)

Today, I will discuss three more reasons why a person may feel sad at Christmas, along with possible coping strategies.  Perhaps you will be able to identify with some of these ideas.

3. Changes over time create feelings of loss.

As people grow older, the dynamics of a family change dramatically. There are marriages, addition of children, and deaths.  Someone in the family may have grown ill.  Perhaps people have moved away, or choose not to be involved with the family any more.  Children may have left the nest.  Divorces may have occurred.  Parents may have grown old and are unable to host gatherings in their home, so alternate arrangements have to be made.  The home you grew up in may have been sold.  Maybe you used to always get together on Christmas Day, or always had brunch, or always gave each other gifts, and for some reason this cannot happen anymore.  All of these changes over time, normal as they may be, can create feelings of loss.  Christmas just isn’t the way it used to be…and that hurts.

I would suggest that you acknowledge the loss, and give yourself permission to mourn it if needed.  You may want to read this post, which discusses how the passage of time can lead to emotional pain.

Keep those old, good memories locked away somewhere, and treasure them.  You could reminisce by looking at photos or videos of past Christmases, or putting a scrapbook together to preserve them.  If someone you love has passed on, how may you cherish their memory?  Perhaps you could make a donation in their name.  Or create or purchase an ornament to place on the Christmas tree in their honor.

And finally, don’t let your grief blind you to the good things happening in the present.  Some time in the future, today’s Christmas may become the ‘good old days’ for you or your children.  Love your people while they’re here, as best as you possibly can.

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4. Expectations and hopes may lead to feelings of overwhelm.

The holidays have been romanticized to a level of perfection that is usually unreachable.  This is very easy to be drawn into, even if you strive to keep things simple.  There is so much build-up to the various events and trimmings of Christmas and New Year’s: the baking, the cooking, the gifts, the tree, the decorations, the parties, the gatherings, the sparkling eyes of children, and the thrill of romantic relationships.  In Christmas movies and jewellery commercials, each detail comes together with absolute perfection. However, this is not an expectation that is healthy to bring into real life.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, is there something you can cut from your schedule?  Although I love Christmas baking, there have been some years when I haven’t done any of it, and just bought chocolates instead.  Last year, for Christmas Day dinner, my family and I had taco salad.  We all enjoyed it, and nobody had to stress or slave in the kitchen.

If your gift-buying budget is small, perhaps you can cut a few people from your list.  Siblings?  Nieces and nephews?  Your child’s teachers?  Do they all need gifts?  Would a simple card suffice?  If appropriate, you may want to inform them in advance of any changes: “I’m feeling overwhelmed with Christmas preparations, and our finances are strained.  I won’t be able to buy a gift for you this year.”

Thankfully, I think that children in particular can be satisfied with very little.  They usually don’t need the largest or most expensive gifts to be pleased on Christmas morning.  We’ve cut back on what we spend on our kids, and I don’t expect them to be any less happy because of it.

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5. The holidays can be physically draining.

The children are home from school, so the house is busier.  You may be travelling long distances, or staying away from home.  Get-togethers with friends and family go on for many hours, and you go to bed later.  You have additional responsibilities such as shopping for and wrapping gifts, cleaning, decorating, hosting, cooking, and baking. Depending on where you live, it may be colder and darker outside, like it is where I am.  If so, you may not get much fresh air, sunshine, or exercise.  You may consume more sweets, junk food, and alcoholic beverages than usual, while not having time for your usual self-care routines. These things, taken together, impact your physical well-being and increase your tiredness, which can significantly impact your mood.

Perhaps this is a simplified answer, but a good sleep can do wonders.  If you get a chance to grab an early bedtime, or an occasional nap, go for it!

Regarding exercise – I have found that the most difficult part of getting active, or bundling up and going outside, is getting started.  But when I do, I feel physically better for the entire day!  If the weather is nice, I may take my kids tobogganing or skating.  If I’m just too wimpy to brave the cold, I enjoy about 30 minutes of brisk walking on our treadmill.  Do what works for you, and reap the benefits!

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My little snowman.  We had our winter’s first taste of Arctic air this week.  Crisp!

And since it is potluck season, remember that healthy foods are welcome additions to table spreads that usually contain an overabundance of fatty, sugary, carbohydrate-laden foods.  Bring a tray of fruit or vegetables, and watch it be devoured!  Maybe you’ll even eat some of it yourself.

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This list, of course, is not comprehensive.  But if you are struggling emotionally, I believe there is great value in acknowledging that fact, identifying what the causes may be, and taking whatever steps you can to address them.  Even when you do these things, however, the holidays may still be stressful and difficult!  All we can do is our best, as we try to focus on the blessings in our lives.

I pray that God will give you peace this season, and infuse Christmas with the kind of meaning that circumstances and emotions cannot deplete!

With the warmest of wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Rambles

Why You May Feel Sad at Christmas (Part 1)

Before heading home from a family gathering, you take a drive with your husband and kids to look at Christmas lights.  Everything’s going fine.  Suddenly, however, you are flooded with intense feelings of sadness that catch you off-guard.  You stare out your window (supposedly engrossed by the beautiful views) and hope that no one notices the flood of tears coming down your cheeks.

It’s New Year’s Eve.  The kids are in bed, and it’ll be a low-key night for you and your spouse.  Snacks from the leftovers in the fridge, maybe a glass of wine, and fireworks on the TV – if you can stay up late enough to catch them.  But for some reason, you’re having a hard time keeping yourself together.  Every 20 minutes or so, you nonchalantly retreat to the bedroom.  There you lay on the bed, cry quietly until it’s out of your system, and return to the living room…hoping your spouse doesn’t see the red rims around your eyes.

Either of these scenarios sound familiar?  They do to me, because they are personal examples!

Many people feel sad, or depressed, during the winter months.  The holidays may be an especially challenging time.  The impression I get from what I read and hear on the topic, however, is that people who have recently lost a family member or undergone a traumatic event, or who are clinically diagnosed with depression, are most prone to struggling.

I’m sure that’s true.  However, I don’t really fit any of those categories – and yet, I struggle.  Maybe you, like me, have a pretty good life.  And yet, Christmas rolls around, and it’s just hard.  Overwhelming emotions blindside you.  Or your energy is totally zapped, and you can hardly accomplish a thing.  There may be many reasons for this, as every person and situation is unique.  However, I have compiled a list of 5 possible causes, and suggestions of how to cope.  Perhaps you will be able to identify with some of these ideas.  (I will address the first 2 points today, and will share the remaining 3 next Friday.)

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1. Buried or hidden memories and feelings are brought to the surface.

The holidays are a naturally reflective time.  Another year is ending, and we may find ourselves re-living strong emotions, or dwelling on memories of past events.  To top it off, we are surrounded by music, movies, and messages that are designed to tap into tender feelings.  Music, in particular, is proven to be strongly linked to memories.  Christmas songs that you hear every year may carry you back to your past in a powerful way.  This is sometimes uplifting, but it can also be painful.

As feelings or memories are elicited, it is usually healthier to deal with and process them directly, rather than dismiss or avoid them.  My favorite way of doing this is through prayer.  The Spirit of Jesus is always present to help me carry my emotional burdens; He has never failed me – not one single time.

Some people may find it helpful to talk things through with a trusted person or counsellor.  Others may prefer to write it out in a journal, or express what they are feeling through some other creative medium.

And let us not underestimate the power of a good sense of humour, to balance all of the emotive, wistful stuff.  Is there someone who can always make you laugh?  Spend time with them (my husband is great for this).  Or put away the tear-jerkers for a while, and watch a funny movie (“Christmas with the Kranks,” anyone?).

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2. Holidays bring us into the presence of family members.

Family members bless us and give us a sense of belonging, so there may be joy in seeing them again.  However, if you struggle with an unhealthy level of comparison, you may feel less satisfied with your life after seeing siblings or cousins who seem happier, better off, or more successful than you in some way.

Also, if your relationships with family members are not healthy, family gatherings can elicit negative feelings such as anger, sadness, or anxiety.  If there is so much division that you do not see your family members anymore, Christmas is a time when you will likely be reminded of this fact.

There aren’t really any short-cuts to dealing with weighty issues such as these.  However, on the topic of comparisons, gratitude and thankfulness – focusing on the things in your life that are going well and that you are thankful for – can be helpful.  Remember that you, and your spouse and kids, are uniquely and wonderfully made.  Your lives will not be the same as your siblings’ lives.  And that is totally ok.

Even when you are going through struggles that the rest of your family doesn’t understand or appreciate, remember that God sees you.  His purpose is to work good from the trial that you are experiencing.

Regarding difficult relationships, you may find it helpful to learn about healthy boundaries.  Boundary issues may be at the root of a whole host of problems.  Click here for my past post on relational boundaries, and a suggestion of a book to read on the topic.

Otherwise, if you can think of a kind, appropriate, reasonable gesture to extend to your family members, go ahead and do it.  (Without the expectation of receiving anything in return.)  A simple greeting card?  A short phone call, email, or hand-written note?  A small gift or helpful act?  Try not to worry about the spirit in which they receive it – only the spirit in which it is given.  If possible, spread your love in some small way, as difficult as the circumstances may be.  Even if the person doesn’t receive it well, you will know that you are trying to do the right thing.

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How about you?  Do you experience difficult feelings during the holidays?  What do you think is behind them?  How do you cope?  I would love to hear your ideas in the comments section below.

And I look forward to touching base again next Friday, when I will discuss 3 more possible causes for sadness at Christmas time.

Until then…Warm wishes!

Lisa

Posted in Rambles

Moms are People Too!

Recently, I took a break from household and childminding duties to watch an educational video about music therapy.  It felt like a breath of fresh air.  Not because of any ground-breaking content, but because it had been so long since I was in my ‘element.’  So long since I had heard someone speaking my language – talking about the area I had studied and worked in.  I felt a scholarly and professional comradery with the video-taped members of the audience, despite my vast removal from them, as a stay-at-home-mom who no longer works in that field.

After watching the speech and taking notes on it, I felt as though something had come alive in me again.  Something I had been ignoring.  But why had I neglected that part of myself for so long?

Having unique interests, and allowing yourself time and freedom to explore them, is a part of what it means to have healthy personal boundaries.  A person with healthy boundaries will also:

  • Have their own opinions, without fearing what others will think – and will respect the rights of others to do the same.
  • Have a unique identity (sense of self) that is not consumed by any one particular role, or person.
  • Know that their value is innate, and not dictated by what they do or how other people view them.
  • See their personality as valid and overall good, rather than berating themselves (for being too shy and quiet, perhaps; or, too loud and exhuberant).  They will also enjoy and respect the personalities of other people.
  • Be aware of their own feelings, and take personal responsibility for them.  (See this post.)

In short, a person with healthy boundaries will respect him or herself, and also be respectful of others.

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Cultivating a healthy sense of personal boundaries is a skill that does not come naturally to everyone.  Perhaps you grew up in an enmeshed family, where these unique aspects of who you are were not nurtured.  Instead, you were expected to change or hide them in order to please other members of the family.

If this is the case, the same tendencies may continue into adulthood.  For moms of young children (a role that can be all-consuming), the topic of personal boundaries may be of particular importance.  I’ve heard moms say that they have forgotten who they are.  I would tend to identify with this statement.  Our responsibility to love and care for our children is essential for their well-being.  However, it is better (for ourselves and our children) that we also retain some sense of self, apart from being moms.  In this way, we will avoid using our kids to meet our own emotional needs.  We will also show them the example of a parent who enjoys her life, is able to care about others, and makes unique and positive contributions within the family and beyond.  That is an example I would like my kids to follow!

We’re allowed to have individual interests and opinions.  We’re allowed to say ‘no,’ and ‘stop.’  We can be ourselves: our personalities are valid and acceptable just as they are.  We each have failings but are not condemned by them, because we can receive forgiveness and are able to grow in character.

To develop this in my own life, I am becoming more aware of my wants, likes, and dislikes.  I even express them verbally from time to time.  I’m trying to be ok with standing in a crowd.  (Even if I feel awkward or funny looking.)  I’m researching educational and career options within the realities of my life.  I’m trying not to berate myself for the things I cannot do.  Rather, I am focusing on the things I do well.

For whatever reason, God wanted one of me.  So here I am.

What have you lost yourself in?  If you are a mom, how do you retain your sense of identity?  I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Note:  If you are interested in learning more about personal and relational boundaries, I would recommend consulting the book “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.  It is the source of much of what I have learned on the topic.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

 

Posted in Rambles

On Life as a (Severely) Introverted Mother

“On the last day of a golden summer…”

I remember with a smile those words, which began a Winnie the Pooh video (on VHS) that I used to watch as a child.

As a youngster, the end of summer was an emotionally intense time for me – fraught with both melancholy and nervous excitement.  Though summer was over, the fall would bring new experiences, responsibilities, and opportunities.

To process these feelings, I would slip away by myself.  I grew up in a house at the end of a long country road, which diminished to a set of tracks beyond our driveway turn-off.  The only ones who ever ventured down those tracks were the farmers who owned the land where they ended, the odd vehicle that had lost its way (or was up to no good), and myself.  If I were lucky, the farmer had made a few hay bales and left them laying around.  They were challenging to climb, and a conquest to sit on.  From the top, I could see across the fields.  The pasture had a few small rolling hills, which were odd and beautiful to my prairie-accustomed eyes.

There, atop the bales, beyond my parents’ property line, I felt independent and free.  Free to think, write, or imagine anything I wanted.  I loved the solitude.

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Now, at the end of my 35th summer, I wish I could go back there.  Just for an hour or two.  I miss being able to retreat to a solitary place whenever I want or need to.  As a mom of rambunctious boys, it can be hard to deal with my introverted nature.  The inescapable, dawn-to-dusk clamour of children, as wonderful as it is, has the potential of driving me to madness.

Today I have mostly sat, drunk coffee, watched my children play, broken up fights, prepared their meals, and fetched things for them.  Somewhere in between, I put in a load of dishes and helped to pick up toys in the basement.  I read a chapter of the Bible, broken up into several sections of about 5 verses each (because of constant interruptions), and journalled a short prayer.  I have not been industrious in any way.  I’ve done the minimum.

It sounds like I’m being lazy.  But in my mind, I’m just trying to stay sane.  Sometimes when I have work projects on the go, I need to stop every 2-5 minutes to tend to something with the children.  Hours or days of this will leave me feeling frazzled, at the very least.

So every once in a while, when I feel that I’m starting to get batty, I allow myself a day of only just getting by.  I complete the necessary duties, and let the others fall by the wayside.  In between the children’s events, I attempt to settle my mind, and process my emotions.  I know that at any moment, my stillness could be disturbed – and that needs to be ok.  However, each interruption will delay my ability to switch back into “work mode.”  (I suppose this is why it usually takes an entire day.)

As an adolescent, a friend once told me that I “think a lot.”  I tried to explain by likening the process to cleaning out our desk drawers at school.  After sorting them through, organizing them, and throwing out the junk, we are able to work more efficiently.

And that’s what I’ve been doing today.  Writing this post, actually, is a part of it.  As I complete these paragraphs, I experience a sense of relief.

Can anyone relate?  Are there other severely introverted moms out there?  How do you cope?

I would love to hear your ideas in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Rambles

Today Can Be Wonderful

Isn’t that a cheesy and idealistic title?  If you are like me, you will have passed right by.

Naturally, my tendency is to worry, and project imagined, negative outcomes long into the future.  I will wake up in the morning and think, “What am I doing with my life?  Will I ever be able to get a job after all this time spent at home?”  I will look at my kids and wonder, “Are we messing them up?  Are they developing to their fullest potential, or do they need more – vacations, extra-curricular activities, quality time…omega-3 fatty acids??”

At the very least, I’m not one to close my eyes and ignore the difficulties of life, in favour of a whitewashed, artificial, ‘positive’ outlook.

But a friend of mine recently told me about a technique she learned from a counsellor, that she calls 3-3-3.  Very simply, it is an exercise in which you thank God for: 3 things you can see, 3 things you can touch, and 3 things you can hear.  I tried it, and my mood improved.  I felt calmer.

I had practiced intentional thanksgiving in the past: thank you for my family; thank you for my health; thank you for my coffee maker; etc.  And yes, that helped too, but I felt there was something unique about the “see,” “touch,” and “hear” component.  What was it?

I think that by focusing on see, touch, and hear, you pull yourself out of your fearsome imaginings and bring your mind back into the present moment.  Back to today.  Look around you!  And listen, and feel – all of the things you have been ignoring, because you were so busy stressing about things that have not yet happened (and probably never will).

More than likely, you will come to the conclusion that: there actually are wonderful things all around you.  And no, not every day can be wonderful.  But many of us are privileged enough that the vast majority of days can be, if we will only open up our senses.  (Maybe sometimes, it’s good to be a little short-sighted.)

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There’s a woman living on my street who has the bubbliest, friendliest personality, and the most infectious giggle, that you could ever imagine.  She’s one of the first people I met when we moved here.  She’s probably the first person everyone meets!  Because, that’s just the way she is.

After our morning chats at the school bus stop, she will often send me away with an exuberant salutation: “Have a wonderful day!”

I have often heard people say: “Have a nice day.”  I’ve grown accustomed to it.  But here she is, with the nerve to speak of a “wonderful” one!

It got me to thinking.  Could today be wonderful?

And you know what?  Most days, I wake up to a fresh pot of coffee that my husband has brewed.  To healthy, joyful children bounding around the room and climbing up on my bed.  To warm sun on my face, or crisp, cool air in my lungs.  And to many other great things that I can see, hear, and touch.

I cannot know or control what will happen in the next 10 or 20 years.  But yes, today can be wonderful.  And probably, tomorrow can be too.

“Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  Matthew 6:34

Do you struggle to live in the moment?  I would love to hear your perspective in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa