‘Tis the season to be jolly but can also be the season to feel sad.
The end of the year brings the end of many relationships, but Christmas also brings an increase in people feeling sad, lonely or depressed.
You might have seen the Facebook post doing the rounds at the moment.
“Some thoughts as we enter the holiday season. It is important to remember that not everyone is looking forward to Christmas,” the post reads. “Some people are not surrounded by large wonderful families. Some of us have problems during the holidays and are overcome with great sadness when we remember the loved ones who are not with us.
“For many it is their first Christmas without a particular loved one and many others lost loved ones at Christmas. And, many people have no one to spend these times with and are besieged by loneliness. We all need caring, loving thoughts right now.”
Feeling sad is one thing – uncomfortable as it is, sadness won’t kill us.
A new study published in The Lancet found that unhappiness does not increase the risk of premature mortality. Rather, the researchers explained it is poor health, which tends to make people feel unhappy, that does increase the risk.
Loneliness (as distinct from being alone), on the other hand is something we do need to worry about.
Not only can loneliness increase the chances of premature death by up to 14 per cent, a new study has found that loneliness affects our health while we’re alive too.
The researchers, from the University of California, found that loneliness is associated with an increased inflammatory response and impaired immunity.
So what do we do when the festive season feels anything but?
Apart from soaking sorrow in the only logical way under the circumstances – with wine – breathing slowly and deeply into waves of sadness and trying not to tense around them can help them to wash over us. It also helps us not to hold onto the pain.
“The stuff that holds you down periodically rears its head,” says author Michael Singer, in his New York Times best-selling book The Untethered Soul.
“When it does, let it go. You simply permit the pain to come up into your heart and pass through. If you do that, it will pass.”
It is also important to understand that sadness and loneliness are natural emotions.
“There’s a common misunderstanding among all humans beings … that the best way to live is to try and avoid pain and just try to get comfortable,” says American buddhist nun and teacher Pema Chodron in The Wisdom of No Escape.
“A much more interesting, kind adventurous and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet. To lead a more passionate, full, and delightful life than that, we must realise that we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is, how we tick and how our world ticks, how the whole thing just is.”
When the pain is the result of loneliness, reframing it can also help.
“Loneliness tells us that we crave connection,” advises SANE Australia.
“Rather than viewing these feelings negatively and being hard on ourselves, we can choose to see loneliness as coming from a healthy part of us that is motivated to connect with others.”
Reconnecting with ourselves is part of it.
“When we’re taking good care of ourselves, we are more likely to be positive, and feelings of loneliness may have less power to get us down,” they say. “There’s no right or wrong way to do this. A great starting point is to try brainstorming some ideas for activities that make us feel good and then start doing them.”
Making the decision to reach out and reconnect with others is another way to sift through thorny feelings at this time of year (or any time for that matter).
Reaching out, of course, involves staying open and soft, even in the face of pain or discomfort.
This can be the hardest and most transformative thing we can do. And not a bad gift to give ourselves for Christmas.
“Begin by seeing the tendency to protect and defend yourself,” Singer says. “There is a very deep, innate tendency to close, especially around your soft spots. But eventually you will notice that closing creates tremendous work.
“Once you close, you have to make sure that what you protected doesn’t get disturbed. You then carry this task for the rest of your life. The alternative is to become conscious enough to simply watch the part of yourself that is constantly trying to protect itself. You can then give yourself the ultimate gift by deciding not to do that any more.”
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