Elizabeth Simms knows this holiday is going to be a hard one. Travel restrictions, self-isolation requirements and gathering limits mean more of us than ever will be celebrating the season solo—and, as the registered psychotherapist who runs a private practice in Dartmouth says: "The pandemic is such a huge thing, it's so big that it amplifies the anxiety. We're all feeling it—it's kind of like an earthquake, a slow-moving quake."
Yup, it's going to be a fitting end to a total turd of a year. (When but 2020 could Mandy Moore release a song called "How Could This Be Christmas"?) But, the best way to deal with that might just be to embrace it, in mastering what Simms describes as "the ability to sit with the discomfort without adding the storyline."
It's like this: "All feelings are just tension in the body. And if we can reduce it to that, then it's a manageable, present-moment way of not amplifying it and not going into the past or trying to manipulate and not going into the future," she says. "That practice of disengaging the thinking function: We just find the thinking function actually complicates feelings. The more we learn to gently, over time, disengage from the thinking when you're feeling: It's like a muscle, we get better at it. You're not feeding the tension, we're not making the tension or the anxiety more real."
Be gentle with yourself. Sit in the suckiness of the moment. Follow the annoying-but-effective reminders that have helped all along: Get enough sleep, eat as well as you're able and try to move your body a bit. Take your meds. Drink some water. FaceTime someone if that feels nourishing. Or, pass on the group Zoom hangout if it feels like too much.
Relish the fact that, at least while you're alone, you don't have to try to grin and bear anything for anyone. (Shout-out to those who have a hard time on the holidays when they do go home. May we never forget Can-Pop queen Carly Rae Jepsen's holiday anthem "It's Not Christmas Until Somebody Cries." )
Try to practice listening to your needs, not the internal narrator that bullies you. "Catch the thinking that amplifies anxiety or painful feelings," Simms says. "See if you can identify the thinking. Are you putting yourself down? Are you telling yourself you're not doing well enough? Are you telling yourself that you're not good enough? Because that's what we're all doing and that's why we're all messed up."
The process isn't easy, but it will get better. Over the holidays—and over lockdown—Simms says it's about making this into a habit: "My god, you've got to be patient and disciplined. Here's a key too: You're going to make a lot of mistakes," she says. "But the intention is more powerful than the practice." a