When you just can’t feel “Merry” at Christmas time

Christmas time is such a collective time of joy and festivity. There is no other time in the year that is as busy with communal celebration than Christmas.

Yet this time of year can bring as much pressure as it does joy. Amidst celebration there are financial pressures, the stress of trying to meet work deadlines in a shorter period of time, dealing with the stress and intensity of others and the difficulties associated with spending time with people that you may have purposefully avoided throughout the year.

While there is great sweetness during the Christmas season it is not without its sour elements.

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What hits us most potently and often unexpectedly is either the numbness or despair that we are prone to during Christmas. I believe these to be both psychological and physiological phenomena.

The numbness can be tricky to pinpoint.

It often slowly creeps in and we don’t realize its there until we are overwhelmed by its pervasive intensity. Numbness shows up as complacency, a lack of motivation, feeling disconnected from what’s going on around you, sleepiness or just feeling flat for apparently no good reason.

Many people who come to see me who are experiencing numbness say things like “everything is good in my life I don’t know why I just can’t be happy” or “I just can’t seem to get into the spirit of things” and even “I just can’t quite remember the last time I enjoyed myself”.

Sometimes the numbness has been such a constant companion that people believe it is simply part of their identity  “it’s just who I am, I’m a worrier” and “I’ve never been someone who can just let go and have a good time”.

I believe the undercurrent of numbness that we notice more at Christmas time has actually been there for a while, it’s just highlighted by the bright lights and fluorescent yuletide cheer.

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I also don’t believe it is who you truly are it’s just that we feel it so intrinsically it’s hard to separate the remnants of the past with who we are at the core of our being.

And then there is despair…

To some degree with numbness we can plaster on a happy face and act as if we are OK.

However when it comes to despair there is no escape and any counterfeit attempt to disguise our despondency comes at a price. Extreme exhaustion, emotional outbursts or finding yourself dug deeper into the painful pit of anguish. There’s no fooling anyone no matter how hard you try and this makes us feel worse.

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With despair at least we know exactly what is crushing our spirit and we likewise know that there is very little we can do about it.

The inescapable forces of life like death, sickness, psychological abuse, chronic pain, financial devastation or the soul crushing devastation of aloneness hit us hard. We are imprisoned with little hope of liberation.

There is nothing that more powerfully highlights the depth of our pain than the radiant joy in others.

At times such as this I am called to remember the religious significance of Christmas. That a babe was born in darkness, poverty and vulnerability. Stripped bare and with few resources to sustain him it would be easy to conceive that what lies ahead is nothing but ill fated. Yet with the love of those few connected to him and the unforeseen blessings bestowed on him by strangers he was able to grow and thrive and ultimately reach his inner potential despite all odds.

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After working with chronic physical and psychological pain for almost 20 years now I know that this isn’t who you are or is all that you will ever be although it seems like it right now. The reason it feels eternal is because you haven’t yet found a way out.

There is a saying ….

“If you want to heal the mind work on the body, if you want to heal the body work on the mind”

I say work on both. All too often people feel depressed, stressed, anxious or overwhelmed and they understandably believe that if they are experiencing the turmoil in their minds then this must be where the problem originates.

Likewise when people are burdened by chronic physical pain they believe there is a bio-mechanical dysfunction that needs to be corrected in order to experience relief.

The latest research is now highlighting that pain is a by product of the nervous system and does not necessarily originate from a wound. Lorimer Moseley and the body in mind group are creating groundbreaking insights into examining how pain is created and therefore how it can be healed. I love his video “Tame the beast” which describes the mechanisms of chronic physical pain. To watch click here.

You see our nervous systems are extremely clever. Based upon past experiences we retain sensory fragments in our physiology. Particularly if an experience has been overwhelming or potentially harmful the body remembers and puts a little sensory alarm bell on a smell, a sound, a taste or even a time of the year. See where I’m heading with this?!

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Our nervous system is always scanning the environment for danger and it does not discern between physical or psychological. Danger is danger and our physiology is designed to keep us alive and so it protects us from potentially threatening situations. It gives us a migraine before the Christmas party with our belligerent uncle. Or we somehow run late to the family get together.

Or we simply feel a little numb at Christmas time so that we are not totally overwhelmed by the absence of love or the loss of a love and we can still function, show up and make it through.

Life is not for existing, it is for living

Somehow we make it through these dark periods and it is the quality of self-support and that of others that helps us make it through.

Last year I wrote a post titled 7 Strategies for a Stress Free Christmas. Many of the suggestions here are useful for mitigating stress however if you are really struggling you might need a few more up your sleeve.

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5 Suggestions For When You are Really Struggling

Connect with genuine people

There is great healing in being heard and truly understood. The pain of your experience is sacred and just as relevant at Christmas time than any other. Having someone witness the immensity of what you are going through can make the burden a little easier to bare. It also takes way less energy if you don’t have to keep up an act all the time.

Honour your feelings

Make time to feel and express your emotions. Emotions are tricky things, a bit like a babushka one emotion may be disguising another. For example anger can actually have a lot of sadness underneath it or grief might be a good cover up for loneliness. It might feel like the last thing you want to do but by releasing some of the internal pressure you are less likely to explode or end up in tears at untimely moments.

Make Self-Care Essential

Get that massage, have that bath, have that cup of tea sitting outside for fifteen minutes instead of drinking it on the fly and get to that yoga class even if it’s only 1. Replenishing yourself when you are doing and giving so much is crucial to getting through tough times.

Know that you are not the only one struggling

Most people don’t share the extent of their pain for many reasons. Sometimes words cannot accurately explain the exquisite tenderness of their pain, other times people are too traumatized to talk about it and all too often people don’t want to bring others down. So we think that we are the only ones facing a private battle. Know that you are not alone and if possible draw some comfort from the thought of other silent soldiers fighting their way through their own dark time.

Trust that there is light after darkness

The immense blessing of my work is that I see people on a daily basis survive beyond the most heart wrenching of despairing times. As they struggle we share how they cannot fathom how they will make it through. I know I have had many of these times too. But make it through they do. Somehow they get to the other side and find restoration and renewal. Forever changed and always for the better.

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So go gently this Christmas. For so many 2017 has been a rough ride, myself included. And if you cannot feel merry don’t feel bad for feeling bad feel content that you are being the most authentic version of yourself in difficult times and remember

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness”
Desmond Tutu

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Emiline Duncan smile q

Hi I’m Emiline. I am a Counsellor, Remedial Massage Therapist and TRE Provider. I specialize in supporting people with chronic physical and emotional pain. I have worked with people for almost 20 years to break free from the inevitable burdens of life so that they can finally start to experience happiness, fulfillment and freedom.  If you have tried everything else and haven’ t yet had success you might find as many others have that my unique approach of combining mind body strategies can finally help you move beyond what is holding you back. Call me for a free 15 minute consultation and we can discuss the ways in which I can help you in your unique situation. Finding greater ease than ever before is often simpler than we think. So give me a call on 0419 101 665 or send me at email emiline@thenurturefoundation.com