The Unforecasted Snowstorm of Feelings in the Holiday Season

Yes, the magic of the season is in the air. For me, that means Christmas coffee is brewing, the seasonal tunes are harmonically humming, and the twinkle lights are being hung with care. And with it, the speed of life is picking up from a steady fall of snowflakes to a blinding sideways torrent. You know what I’m talking about. Work deadlines and school papers, volunteering and purchasing gifts, managing relatives’ expectations, decorating and plugging into or pulling off holiday traditions. All of this and the hope that under the weight of the wind and flakes, we’ll wear a smile and bring a calm, jovial attitude to it all.

Enter the first grader. She’s so excited about anticipating the gifts, and the break ahead and the gifts that she can barely sleep at night (not to mention that her pockets are filled with empty candy wrappers from advent calendars, school staff and that kind bank teller). She saves up and uses every ounce of her best self-management skills with her teacher who she doesn’t want to disappoint. But loses it in a swirl of tears and sobs when she comes home hungry, tired and beaten by the storm.

Enter the sixth grader. He is concerned with his friends. And they’ve all checked out with school work. How can you possibly concentrate in class or study for Spanish when there are new video games to check out and play with one another online?

Enter the ninth grader. I’ll take the example of my son for this one. Thanksgiving break was enough to shift his focus fully to his passions and away from the hard work of school that is expected before the next long break. We noticed he could not get up in the morning this week. And we noticed our nagging quotient rising as it became more and more difficult to get him moving.

In schools, when there is not a social and emotional learning curriculum present, that learning still takes place but can be referred to as the hidden curriculum since the modeling of reacting to feelings and engaging in social interactions still occurs and children still learn from it – whether we like it or not. So too, we have a hidden social and emotional narrative operating during the holidays. When our impatience shows or we feel overwhelmed, we are likely burying any number of challenging emotions we just don’t feel we have time for.

John Lennon croons on the radio, “another year over” and he presses, “and what have you done?” We are coming to the end of another year and perhaps, reflections on that year are making our way into our heads as we busy about our days. And as we pull out our beloved decorations like the reindeer cut-outs produced by the small hands of our former kindergartner that hang on the banister, we may feel the sting of nostalgia and the sadness and loss of the hands that are not so small anymore. We may pull out ornaments from loved ones who are no longer with us and even, those who left us in the past year.

Brene Brown, the bestselling author and researcher, likes to say that when we wall off one emotion, we wall them all off. Can’t take the sadness? Then, you don’t get to experience the joy either. It’s just how we are wired. The media is so concerned with the phenomena of FOMO (the fear of missing out) but what about FOF (the fear of feelings)? It may be more palpable during this season. We might all take a fresh breath in the new year but in the meantime, why take the chance that we can allow this snowstorm of feeling to take us over and snap – saying something we regret to someone we love?

What can we do? And how can we help our children and teens too? Here are some ideas.

  1. Create a daily ritual.

What small – and I truly mean small (cause if it’s not, we won’t do it, right?) – practice can you do daily that will renew you? Deep breathing, listening to a calming piece of music, or lighting a candle and noticing the scent can all be restorative. Maybe you take time out for an afternoon cup of tea? 

And how can you help create a daily calming ritual for your child or teen? Perhaps think together about what best helps restore your son or daughter. Create a list and post it so they have a selection of options they can go to when they need some calm. Check out this example!

2. Feel the feelings.

Sometimes the moment at hand is not the moment for your big feelings. And so there are important reasons we table our emotions and use our self-management skills to cope, distract and reframe. But if we continue to suppress big feelings, they will emerge louder and stronger and we’ll feel that blinding snowstorm beating us down, like it or not. That’s biologically how our feelings gain our attention. So carve out a space for journaling and writing down what you are experiencing. You might consider: what are the many or possibly mixed emotions you are feeling? Where are they coming from? How can you let them in so that you can feel through them to the other side? Because some – like sadness – can feel so uncomfortable that we feel as if they’ll last forever but no snowstorm ever lasted forever. They are temporary. That reminder can help us be brave and accept our walk through the storm.

For your children and teens, sit down and take the time to reflect with them if they are “off.” Pinpoint together what’s going on. Name the feelings. For younger children, use emojis, draw pictures or use a feelings list to help them express what’s going on inside. Just the simple act of identifying frustrations together can help remove some of the intensity as they feel heard and understood.

3. Make a plan for the really big storms.

If we believe that our own or our children’s feelings storms will not come, we are simply kidding ourselves. We know they will. It’s only human. So plan for those moments. And check out the following simple tools to help you plan ahead.

For tweens, teens and adults, check out the Family Emotional Safety Plan, a one-page printable that will help you decide what you will do when you get really upset and need to calm down.

For younger children, I love teaching them self-management skills by proactively creating a safe base that is ready and equipped for them to self-select to calm down and feel better. Learn more about how to do that here.

Perhaps the most comforting notion is that the blinding part of the snowstorm passes – just as emotions do – and sometimes quickly in the scheme of things. And what’s left is the beauty and magic of a blanket of pure white snow that we can appreciate and enjoy with our loved ones. Wishing you that enjoyment this season! 

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