Ryan Miller, Senior Care Partners P.A.C.E.
I think we can all understand and appreciate that the holiday season, while fun and exciting in so many ways, can also be stressful, painful, and even depressing for many. This month I sat down with Allison Kapcia, LLMSW, Social Worker, and Nicole Fitzgerald, Spiritual Care Provider, at Senior Care Partners P.A.C.E. to discuss some of the challenges that we may face during the holiday season. Our conversation included how we can blend old traditions with new opportunities. Nicole and Allison share their perspectives to my questions in this month’s edition of Keeping PACE.
Ryan: What advice would you give someone who is having a hard time letting go of a family tradition that is centered around the holidays? Perhaps the reason for having to let go of the tradition is because a family member or loved one is no longer with us.
Nicole: It is normal to feel tension during times of great transition, loss or upheaval. Our protective “thinking” mind grasps for traditions, memories and practices that may no longer spark joy or shine light. During this time of uncertainty take time to reflect and be thankful for how any traditions have brought you to this place. Then release any sense of shame or guilt for laying traditions to rest; any that no longer serve the healing, growing, and expanding person you are now. Finally, trust your intuition and give yourself time to sit in shadows and enjoy the sparkling lights of newness that will begin to shine as you prepare yourself to embrace a new way for a new season.
Ryan: Can you talk about the benefits of trying to incorporate in new traditions this time of year?
Nicole: It may seem risky to put emotional, mental, and physical energy into new traditions during a holiday steeped in personal, family and cultural practices but the benefits can far outweigh the investment not just for you but generations to come. Traditions must begin somewhere! Even if it sounds a little intimidating, when we as humans find the courage to use our imagination, we are given the opportunity to transmute our grief and loss into beauty and practice. Small sparks of creativity can not only bring light to you but offer hope to others as well.
Allison: Like Nicole said, traditions need to start somewhere. I think if you are ready and able to start something new that it can be such a wonderful opportunity to come together and grieve losing that special person who loved that tradition. Once you’ve taken that time and space to grieve, it leads into another opportunity to start a new tradition which could bring you all together as a family. It’s not always going to be easy but don’t let that keep you from wanting to put in an effort to bring yourself joy and to give hope to others.
Ryan: Many people will share that they enjoy this time of year because they get to spend time with family. However, that isn’t true for everyone. For me, personally, I have siblings in two different states and my mother will be out-of-state this year for the first time. It can be depressing or even cause feelings of jealousy or resentment when we hear talk of family. What would you suggest someone do if they are experiencing those types of feelings?
Nicole: We are often taught that strong emotions that produce big feelings are “wrong,” and we should avoid, stuff, or shoo them away. This could not be further from the truth during this time of year. This holiday take time to honor the emotions (what we experience in our body) and evaluate your feelings (the meaning we attach to them). When your body begins to experience tight chest, stiff shoulders, clouded thinking or upset stomach take the time to turn inward with kindness and ask: “Where in my body am I sensing this?” “What is my body trying to tell me? “Then trust your intuition to discern the feeling. Perhaps what is presenting as sadness is actually deep longing. Maybe that anxiety is anticipation. The feeling of jealousy could be a reminder that you still have hopes and dreams for what is to come. It all tells us it is time to take action to begin to create something new.
Allison: I think that it is important to feel how you are feeling because change can be hard, and grief comes at all different stages and times for people. It is also important to have boundaries when you do start to feel triggered. There is nothing wrong with separating yourself or stepping away from others if they are talking about a topic that triggers you or makes you feel angry/sad/depressed or any kind of feeling. I think it would be great to create a list of activities to do or have someone you can call if you do feel that way as a part of coping.
Ryan: Some family members may be insistent on continuing family traditions that just don’t seem reasonable, feasible, or maybe even important any longer to other family members. What are some considerations that should be given to this dynamic?
Nicole: Expectations on your time, resources and relationships can be multiplied around this time of year. As you consider how to make your holidays reflect your values these are just a few practices to consider as you dance your way through these complicated moments. First, pause before you respond to invites, roles, or requests. Take time to evaluate through the filter of your values. Ask, “Does this option support the traditions I want to carry and create moving forward?” Second, recognize that change is hard and it is okay to be kind to yourself and others. You do not have to defend your decision(s). You can still lead by example with vulnerability and openness about the shifting that is happening in your life without giving into the pressures of others.
Ryan: If someone is not feeling the joy during the holidays, what would you suggest they do?
Nicole: Take a deep breath. Then, don’t do anything for the sake of doing it; that can be an immediate joy-sucker. Take intentional time prior to the holiday to identify where the healing balm of care is needed in your life. Be honest with your answers and they can become a guidebook to inform you where to put time and energy even if you don’t have the immediate reward of the joy of seasons past. What is in your heart to do? What do you need this holiday season? Are you exhausted and need rest, weary and need encouragement, lonely and needing companionship, sick and needing healing, grieving and needing hope, broke and needing abundance, anxious and needing insight, depressed and needing comfort, or in a fog and needing clarity? Our greatest need is often intertwined with the task that is set in our heart. Taking action on caring for ourselves and honoring what is our heart plants seeds of joy for ourselves and others that we may not see bloom for a little while, and that’s okay.
Allison: If leaving town during the holidays will help because being at home is overwhelming, then do that. If being by yourself and giving yourself the opportunity to just rest is helpful, then do that. It is so important to take care of ourselves and you need to do what the best option is for you!
Ryan: What are some warning signs that a family member, friend, or co-worker may be struggling with the holidays and have had enough of the turkeys, snowmen, Christmas carols and Hallmark movies?
Nicole: Simple shifts in how we interact can help our presence become a safe place for sharing even when people aren’t showing the typical “warning signs” after all, most of us who struggle with the holidays play along sometimes a little too well. In my experience as a spiritual care provider, someone not struggling with the holidays is the exception to the rule; myself included. Trauma, grief, and relational difficulties can all spill over with the added pressure and preoccupation with Hallmark movie worthy holiday plans. So, instead of saying “What are your plans for the holidays” shift to “what is on your mind as the holidays approach?” Take time to give the gift of listening without asking too many questions and simply respond with “Thank you for sharing”. Your commitment to giving the gift of your presence far outweighs turkey, snowmen and binge-worthy holiday movies.
Thank you to Allison and Nicole for sharing their advice on a difficult topic to address. My hope is that we will all be more aware that those around us, as well as ourselves, may be in different places…and that is okay. There is value and a place for traditions of the past. We are also presented with new opportunities each year, whether we ask for them or not, to embrace new experiences. What is on your mind as the holidays approach?