Reprinted From Kern River Courier December 15, 2017
Though the holidays are associated with joy and good tidings, they can also bring darkness. Feelings of sadness, loneliness and emptiness can resurface at this time. It’s very common for people to experience the holiday blues, so finding ways to manage our emotions can be helpful.
As a therapist, I often have to use the same techniques to manage my own emotions that I prescribed to my clients. This week I had to put these techniques to work after experiencing some tense moments at a family gathering in Los Angeles. A relative who was not invited to the event showed up, causing conflict, opening up deep wounds and dividing the family.
The family conflict greatly upset me, so as I drove back home along the 395 freeway, I contemplated how I would manage my internal distress and deal with a fractured family.
Incidentally, there is no better place to unpack existential angst than the drive up to Walker Pass. The desert can be quite comforting — a silent and desolate world where one can find the space to smooth out the jagged edges of life.
As I drove past the rugged, purple Scodie mountains, and marveled at the spiny cholla cactus gracing the remote desert landscape, I explored what I could do to take care of myself. This momentary pause to consider self-care options often provides the vision needed to guide us out of distressful times.
I decided it was essential for me to process what happened and feel my feelings (as ugly as they were). Negative emotions can transmute into negative energy if they are not expressed. In other words, bottled negative feelings and thoughts can contribute to disease and mental health conditions (which is why therapy is called the “talking cure”). I also recognized that it would not be helpful if I fixated on these negative thoughts and feelings. I had to find a balance between expressing my emotions in a healthy way, while not letting them consume me.
I considered those actions that would offset my mood. I could engage in “Retail Therapy,” (not an optimal choice); watch marathon episodes of I Love Lucy; eat lots of chocolate (also not a healthy option), take a hike, etc.
Most of these options did not appeal to me. I don’t feel like doing much when I am upset. Yet therein lies the work of self help — doing what is necessary to nurture our soul, regardless of how difficult it may be.
I decided that when I got back home, I would do yoga, journal and run a few errands. These activities got me through a dark day, and sometimes that’s the best we could hope for.
Managing emotions is daily work, and the more you practice at it, the better you get at it. When we get in front of our feelings —instead of stuck in them — we improve our ability to adapt to life’s curveballs.