Sunday, December 22, 2013

stress and anxiety at Christmas: open up your life

We must go through the stages of feeling, not only in the last death of anything, but all the earlier little deaths. If we abort these emotional stages by easy answers, all they do is take a deeper form of disguise and come out in another way. So many people learn that the hard way—by getting ulcers, by all kinds of psychosomatic diseases, depression, chronic irritability, and misdirected anger—because they refuse to let their emotions run their course, honor them consciously, or find some appropriate place to share them. 
Emotions are not right or wrong, good or bad. They are merely indicators of what is happening, and must be listened to, usually in the body. People who do not feel deeply finally do not know or love deeply either. It is the price we pay for loving. Like Job we must be willing to feel our emotions and come to grips with the mystery in our head, our heart, and, yes, our body too. To be honest, that takes our entire life. My emotions are still a mystery to me, and without contemplation they would control me.”

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
~John 14:27
“How better to celebrate again the presence of God among us than by learning from Joseph how to be free, fearless, and faithful, prudent, and wise? Faith for Joseph was an adventure that allowed him to walk with confidence into the unknown. He did not just open his home, he first opened his life. Three days before Christmas, the Church invites us to do the same.”

I’ve had a couple of days recently where waves of assorted emotions sweep over me, like an artic blast blowing into town. Often without warning, I feel a shift, followed by an immediate flow of feelings and tears.

I’ve written about anxiety and stress before. But this is different. I don’t know how to explain it better other than to say that something as simple as a song, a card, an email, even an image, reaches into my heart and I flinch. It seems to be frequently connected to a memory or a person, sometimes not.

Experts tell us that anxiety and being overwhelmed by memories and emotions is not unusual during holidays, especially at Christmas time. But this is new and unfamiliar territory for me.

I tried to describe to my friend Patricia the depth of emotions and how they have surprised me lately, and she wisely pointed out that, as we get older, the sensations and reactions at this time of year run deeper. 

Putting up the tree is no longer just about the task, but about the memories and emotions that each ornament brings. Setting out the nativity is not just setting out the pieces, but more about our unfolding understanding into this incarnational event that has changed us, and what it means to us now, as well as its significance in our pilgrimage towards eternal Life.

In Pat’s words,
“What is different now is that thru my life and my living I am in conversion.   I know now that I am a part of incarnation.  Christmas was Jesus becoming carnate, flesh, a baby.  A miraculous, difficult squeeze for God, for The Holy Spirit!  It is at Christmas that I realize I am becoming Spirit and that, thru my memories, loves and griefs, re-experienced thru reliving the traditions of the season, I a leaving my human life behind and squeezing slowly—oh, so slowly, into spirit.  We followers of Jesus, we adopted sons and daughters of God; have a difficult job trying to balance life in two worlds, working thru our life-long Rebirth.  Exhausting.  And in Advent the walls between seem thinner, the consequences clearer, and our joyful but breaking hearts speak to us out loud.”

In case it helps any of you facing similar moments over the holydays—especially when it feels like too much... here are my action steps:

#1, I let myself cry. The tears are my prayer.

#2, I tell a friend (and also my husband. Doing both helped a lot this week!)

#3, I go to daily Mass (where, of course, I inevitably tear up at communion ;-)

#4, I turn on all the Christmas lights, especially the new white tinkling ones I hung this year over the backyard French doors and across the mantle.

#5, I take a long walk with my hubby and my Siberian Husky Diego. There is nothing like physical activity to settle down the mind and the heart.
Yes, the walls between the here and the hereafter feel thinner during Advent... So go ahead: feel deep, breathe deep, sing and dance to music, laugh a lot… let this be your prayer of openness.

[photos around my house this weekend, following a very impressive ice storm!]