At this time of year we can feel a lot of pressure to be jolly and extra sociable. That’s what everyone does at Christmas and New Year, right? Wrong. Many people are currently filling up with dread for the coming days. People who’ve lost loved ones, people who have to spend more time than feels OK with their families, people in hospital, people who will be alone, people who look back on the old year with sadness and look to the new one with fear. Even people who have a relatively benign attitude to ‘the season to be merry’ are stressed out trying to get everything they think they need to do done in time.
So how do we survive and find our way into January relatively intact?
Firstly, I think it helps to know we’re not alone in struggling through these events. While I wish that no one had to feel bad it is a comfort to know that others understand what it’s like from the inside. We’re not alone and we can reach out to one another with compassion. A phone call, text or email on the day to someone we know is likely to be struggling can make us both feel better.
Secondly, let’s give ourselves permission to feel the way we do. If you’re surrounded by people, carve out half an hour in the day when you can withdraw from the noise and rush to just be how you are, to think about those who are not here, to be sad, angry, lonely, whatever you feel, without apology. If you’re on your own do the same. Plan what time you will have your half hour to be everything that feels wrong. And then, once the half hour is up, whether you return to the mayhem or continue alone, plan what you’ll do next and push the door to on the pain. You’re not shutting it out, you can’t. But you’re choosing to look in a different direction for a time. Permission to not be OK, even if for only half an hour, can take a surprising amount of pressure off the rest of the day.
Thirdly, find an empty jar or container and some paper. Tear the paper into a number of pieces and write on each one something that might make you feel a tiny bit better. Watching a favourite film, going for a short walk, doing something creative, texting someone, checking your email, reading a story on Flourish. Anything you have ever enjoyed even a bit. None of these things are going to change the world. There is no single thing that is going to make this OK. But if we have a store of a few things that help a little bit sometimes, then we can choose to make our world a little brighter. And when there is no light at all, even a single candle makes a difference. You can pull things from your jar at random if you want a surprise, and commit to do whatever the paper says. Or you can pin each one to a plan for the next week or so.
Then, when all those retrospectives start filling up the TV and radio schedules – you know how everyone starts looking back on this year and speculating about the next one? – Turn it off. There is no law that says you have to sit through it all. Just because we’re getting a new calendar it doesn’t mean that we have to get all philosophical about it. There are good times and bad times, for everyone, everywhere. But there is no reason why we have to make a general reckoning of it all right here and now.
One thing I do like to do, though, at this time of year, is to choose a word for the coming year. It’s an alternative to making new year’s resolutions, which mostly seem to serve to make us feel unnecessarily guilty. Choosing a word sets the scene for the year. It’s a way of thinking about where we want to be headed without putting a whole lot of pressure on ourselves. I’m in the ninth year of doing this, and at various times through each year I think about my word and where it’s prompting me to go. I journal about it in words and images and it gives me a focus. Words I’ve chosen so far are: freedom, curiosity, enjoy, balance, passion, sustain, nurture and regeneration. My word for the coming year is clear.
Whatever you do in the coming days, whether they be busy or lonely, know that you are not alone if you’re struggling. This is a hard time for so many of us and we can be there for each other, even if it’s only to hold one another in our thoughts. Why not leave a comment here about what’s going in your jar, what word you’re choosing, or what is the shape of your pain? Let’s be here for each other. And in these darkest of days, may you feel the light returning.