There’s one thing I’m sure we can all agree on: 2020 has been a dumpster fire. And it’s not letting up yet, not by a long shot. The election is dragging on, and Covid numbers are skyrocketing. Now we’ve come to Thanksgiving week, a time when we usually enjoy relaxing with friends and family (at least after the feast has been cooked and cleaned up). But this year is anything but normal.
The CDC has asked Americans not to travel, so you may be staying put this year. If so, you’re dealing with a new normal (are you as sick of that term as I am?). If you’re traveling, chances are you’re a bit stressed. Families rarely see eye to eye on everything, and these days people hold differing views about how to handle the pandemic. Some are very cautious, while others are taking a more relaxed stance. Tensions are high. No matter what you’re doing for Thanksgiving, it probably doesn’t look like it used to. Emotionally, it may feel like a mess.
There’s anger about Covid deprivations, family differences, and people behaving in ways you disagree with. Fear about getting sick or the fallout from the election. Sadness about the loss of comfort, familiarity, and time with loved ones. Conversely, some people are thrilled to have an excuse to miss family gatherings. You might be having all of these emotions all at once. This is normal.
It’s also normal to not want to feel so much. Yet, if we’re going to be fully alive, we don’t have a great alternative. What we do have is an opportunity. (I can hear you groan. I get it. When you’re stressed, you don’t want to hear about the opportunity in the things that are stressing you. But hear me out.)
Though we wouldn’t choose it, the messy state of the world offers us an opportunity to practice having all of our feelings, especially those we don’t like. Why, you might be thinking, do I want all of my feelings? They’re painful. Wouldn’t it be easier to deny them, shove them down, or drown them with food, drink, work, or shopping? Yes and no. Everyone needs to do this sometimes, but it’s not an effective long-term solution.
Though you might temporarily feel better, the emotions you resist don’t go away. They often get stronger or create havoc by going underground or sideways. Those passive-aggressive comments your Aunt Flo always makes at the dinner table? They’re a prime example of how denied or pressurized emotions leak out.
No one wants to be Aunt Flo. So, regardless of how you’re celebrating, notice what you’re feeling. Observe your emotions and give them space without minimizing or exaggerating them. No need to do anything about them. (To learn more about how to do this, read more here.) Later, when you have space and time, you can journal or reflect on what your emotions are telling you.
Of course, this is more challenging than it sounds. Most people have internalized prohibitions against having certain feelings, and everyone has emotional preferences. You absorb these rules and tendencies from your family, close relationships, culture, religion, and society. What’s more, when you’re home, you tend to regress to the family’s emotional rules. That’s ok. Notice that too.
Although feeling your emotions can be challenging, over time, it yields a big payoff. When you’re able to have and understand all of your feelings, your life gets better.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing more about how having all your emotions can make you happier, so stay tuned. If you’d like more tips for staying balanced this week, check out my last article, Staying Centered in a Crazy World.