It is the time of the year when we stop to think: How has the year gone? How has my situation changed with respect to the previous year? Have I managed to introduce that habit? Have I achieved my work goals? What new resolutions do I have for my near future?
All these questions mark the closing of one stage and the beginning of a new one. This, together with all the family and social commitments that we usually have at this time of the year, is an emotional cocktail that can be tiring and distressing for some people.
Emotions most associated with Christmas
Culturally, we have associated Christmas with a positive period, full of illusion, gifts and hope. From the time we are small children, we spend the whole year modulating our behavior to obtain our well-deserved reward during this period. However, as we grow up we realize that other things can also happen during these days. Psychology of emotions plays a fundamental role in this time of the year.
On the other hand, happiness is present, as it is time to pause in our routine to strengthen family ties. The closing of a year can also mean an extra and special motivation to achieve our goals.
But… What other emotions can flourish? Are we “forced” to be happy? According to a study, 33% of Spaniards don’t like Christmas, while 27% say they don’t like it very much and 6% even hate it.
Not so positive emotions are also normal
Although the aim of this period of rest is positive, we can also feel anxiety, stress, sadness, nostalgia, frustration or dissatisfaction. It is important to note that these emotions are also normal, they are present to communicate messages that we should pay attention to.
- Anxiety and stress: can arise from preparations at all levels. Gifts, food, clothes… It is a time to close work and personal objectives and to be aware of many other logistical aspects. In this sense, it can also affect our own expectations about how Christmas should be. They explain more about it in this article from La Mente es Maravillosa.
- Nostalgia and sadness: missing everyone who is no longer with us during these important days. Due to the pandemic, many of us have suffered some loss, as mentioned in our article: Managing grief in the work environment – What can be done? How do we manage these feelings when we are supposed to “be okay”? What can we do when we want to be with those we can no longer be with? Sometimes it is simply a matter of accepting that sadness, understanding what it is communicating to us. That person we miss was important to us and we were lucky to have been able to share our time with them.
- Frustration: Why do I have to be reunited with this person with whom I don’t feel comfortable? Why do I “have to” be reunited with this family member who is so different from me? As mentioned in this article, Christmas is an overexertion, which can take an emotional toll. It is relatively easy for this emotion to provoke an avalanche of thoughts that escalate into behaviors that we may later regret.
- Dissatisfaction: Have I fulfilled my resolutions from last year? If I haven’t, I may feel dissatisfied or disappointed. The new year can be a new opportunity to fulfill what is really important to us.
You are the main character
Psychologists Carlos Martín and Soraya Vivancos provide us with guidelines for coping with these family days from this conversation at Cadena Ser.
The main character of your Christmas is you, you don’t have to be obliged to anything. We can “choose the battles” we want to tackle this Christmas. What can you really do? What is in your hands? If we think everything is going to go wrong, we may end up with a self-fulfilling prophecy and it really will go wrong because that’s where we have our attention.
It’s about how you are going to feel and go in line with what you need. We can also distance ourselves emotionally so we don’t escalate our thoughts. If a comment or situation comes up that we don’t agree with, it can help to try to observe “from the outside” without judgment and not get too emotionally involved.
These are gatherings in which we can lower our defenses, gatherings to stay and not to be, as Carlos Martín says.
About the Author
Hi! I’m Laura Lillo, a forensic and clinical psychologist. I strongly believe that psychology services should be accessible to all. I’ve worked in prisons and with kids with risks of social exclusion. This has taught me the importance of constant learning and improvement as a person and as a therapist.
If I’m not cooking, drawing or singing, the most likely scenario is that I’m playing board games. Right now, I’m busy learning and writing content for Wemby, an online psychology platform. During my weekends I’m Game Master in Exit Madrid, a escape rooms company.