The Transcript: The one about surviving December

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This special episode is also available in Spanish here.

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Hello, hello! Well… yes, it’s not time for a new episode. I get that you might be surprised, but this is a SPECIAL episode… Why are we here, Vera?

Hello! Today, we are giving some core tricks to survive the 2021 holiday season; a holiday season which, depending on your culture and the festivities you celebrate, starts somewhere in November and ends in January, right?

Yup. Now, every year, this is a complicated moment. I have a friend that refers to the holiday season as the peak season for therapists. I know it might not be politically correct, but… would you say that’s true from your experience?

Most definitely.

So, but, this year… it just seems much more intense. You’ve felt it, I’ve felt it in my team, our suppliers, and the community of students and educators we work with. It’s like, 2020 was tough and we pushed through, in an almost romantic way — “we can do this together, the whole world united against Covid, let’s support each other” — and then 2021 came, lockdowns were lifted and it was like “get back to work, bitch, get the fuck out of my way!” I’ve been in hibernation and I have a year-long to do list.

And, well, I think that we’re starting to see the effects of this.

But this is so true, right? It’s a complicated combo: end-of-the-year stress, reloaded edition.

Definitely, right?

Tiredness after two rough years, a bit of pandemic PSTD — PTSD, I always
get confused with that one… Post-traumatic stress disorder.
…And nostalgia over what life used to be like for many before the pandemic, and, in that, realizing what we missed all this time and what it really meant, what we went through. It’s like, “[gasp] wow! We did it!”

Yup.

“We did that?! Really?” So we are in that moment, and le’ts… I think we have to make a disclaimer here: we are in Uruguay; it’s one of the countries with highest vaccination rates, and we are in a very privileged position. It is summer, we are getting together for barbeques and other social events and our culture of closeness feels like we are coming back to life after two very rough years. Yet, we are concerned about what the future might bring with
omicron and all the other letters of the Greek alphabet.

Mhm. There’s a lot on our plates.

A lot.

Now, you mentioned PSTD, right? And maybe it’s an exaggeration, but it kind of resonates. Can we go over some of the things that we might be feeling at this point? Which is kind of the reason why we decided to do this episode. Before we jump into the holiday part, can we take a moment to check in on ourselves? How are you guys feeling right now? A little anxious, a little burnt out, with difficulties focusing, maybe?

Have you had trouble sleeping? Are you a little more jumpy than usual? Or with more rumination than usual? More irritable?

Yes. What I’m hearing a lot with people I talk to is burnout symptoms, mild depressions or some sorts of anxieties even, phobias even, some things that we want to avoid at all cost. Or we can just call it PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, because we need to accept that this whole thing has been traumatic and this is us after it.

And all this added to the holiday stress, right? So that’s why we’re here: to give some friendly reminders, to take perspective, to remind ourselves and feel that we’re not alone and find some hacks and some tools to survive the holiday season. So, why are the holidays so damned hard? Let’s start there [chuckle].

I have a flashback — this is not holidays we are talking about, this is the traditional festivities, so whether it is “merry Christmas”, “happy Hannukah”, “happy New Year’s” or “happy Festivus”, we all need, at a point in our lives, a survival kit to get through the holiday season, right?

But, wait, wait.. What do you mean? Isn’t this the happiest time of the year,
everybody jolly and festive? Look at all the “happy”s and “merry”s that you used in your description!

Well, that might be the point, exactly. There is so much being said about that, that the pressure to have a great time is immense. And as we have already discussed at length in our podcast, “picture perfect” only happens in pictures. Reality is way messier than that. Feelings are bittersweet, it’s not all pretty or not all ugly, right?

Not all super party tipsy time of your life, either, right? It can be a little dull.

Ah, it can be a little dull! And we need to come to terms with that, integrate mixed feelings more into our way of seeing things.

Mm… there’s a bit of FOMO, right? Fear of missing out in all of this? “Where’s
my merry fucking Christmas?! [chuckle]

“Why isn’t mine as good as everybody else’s?”

“Why am I stuck here with these people?” Alright, but seriously, why this
season? Is there something about these traditions that make it worse?

Okay, so let’s talk about traditions a little bit. We need rituals, right? They play a huge role in our social lives. They bind us together. And Byul Chun Han —

A friend of this podcast.

Yes. He warns us against not having them. But rituals have become very complex. And the mandate of happiness has become omnipresent.

Toxic happiness

Yes! It is everywhere, all the time. Now, in my practice I have accompanied people for years navigate this. I have spent many Decembers with people on the verge of wanting out of life, even, because how miserable that pressure made them feel. And I’ve seen people feeling the pressure of having to find who to spend these nights with looming for months.

Yeah, well… Ads, films, and the messages that we echo in social media, they
add to all these feelings of inadequacy.

And we echo those messages, too, right?

Yeah, yes. We are part of the system. And all these feelings of inadequacy, of
not having the family that’s portrayed in pictures, missing someone or longing
for someone, or mourning a loved one, even when the passing away is not
recent, or divorces, right? It’s not only with death… It’s like, it comes up
during the holidays: the empty seat, the part of the ritual that person
performed, the jokes they made or the food they cooked, right? It becomes
intense.

Or when you are far away from where you call home…

Yeah.

Now, you mentioned something that is very important: loss is not just about death.

Yeah.
Okay. [laughs]

We can continue.

But it’s very important, because loss is part of life. And maybe it’s not feeling that connection to others in your extended group, because loneliness can be felt even if you are surrounded with people, right?

Yes. Regretful, maybe, of the time and energy that you’ve spent on the wrong
relationships, or time that you haven’t spent on other relationships and the
consequences that you’re seeing. It’s like a test.

It maybe doesn’t find you in your best place, especially this year.
And having differences in opinions that make it difficult to communicate, or make you dread certain discussions that you know are gonna come up, right?

Especially with alcohol…
Yeah.

So, it could even be simply not feeling that joy, right, that makes you feel inadequate. Or something much more earthly, as not having the money to spend those nights in such a lush way.

Yeah. Not being able to buy all the presents that you would like, the pressure of your kids asking for things that cost a fortune and not being able to give them that, and feeling like a failure because you can’t, right? All the narrative that starts in your head from that, right? The stories we tell ourselves about the things that are happening.

And you know what? Many times, it’s a combination of many of these! Many times, it feels more obvious to some; for others, it’s more silent, but I think, to a point, there is even a taboo that is working here, of not talking about how things are not like they are portrayed in ads and films.

Yeah, not talking about how we feel like shit over the holidays.

Basically.

There’s the shame again, right?

Yes, and loneliness and disconnection again.

And to all this combo that we were mentioning, the end-of-the-year analysis, right?

The endless list of New Year’s resolutions that… well… you didn’t really get ‘round to. You didn’t lose those 20 kilos, you didn’t learn a new language, you didn’t learn how to do a headstand, you didn’t read 20 books, put your finances in order and cook a healthy, balanced diet for every day of the week every Sunday…

And many people look back and feel like crap because they didn't keep their resolutions. We feel like crap because we didn’t keep the resolutions. And then there’s the holiday deadlines for the end of the year, before everyone goes on their winter break, or away for their holidays, or tasks that have to be concluded before the end of the year because of project management or fiscal reasons, you know?

Yeah. And this feels particulatly beefed up in the southern hemisphere, right? It just feels like the world will cease to exist after the 31st of December. Something happens here when the end of year and summer holidays coincide. It’s like Y2K, right? “It’s, oh, it’s gonna end!” Right? Every year.

Exactly… So, we felt compelled to raise awareness and give some hacks to lift some of the weight of this season and navigate through this a bit lighter and in a less traumatic way, if you can.

Alright! Let’s open up that toolkit.

  1. First off, you are not alone. You might feel like you’re alone, but we all feel like crap, like we mentioned before, so it’s a shared shitty feeling. Try telling others how you feel. Whatever that is. Look for people you can connect with and build bridges with. Sharing lifts part of the burden off your shoulders.

Sharing lifts part of the burden off your shoulders. Let’s remember that.
2. Adapt traditions to a way that fits you, your beliefs and what is important to you. Traditions are important. Rituals are part of the social experience. They bond us, they give us a sense of belonging to a community, to something bigger than ourselves. But, maybe, the community you share your culture with is smaller. Look for those people you share some common ground with. There are many things that can bring people together: music, love for sports, common interests, giving to others. New friends can become very good friends.

And you can… This is like a Festivus, right?

Yes.

But it’s not only family. You can also choose to spend the holidays with friends, and that is just as valid and even, sometimes, way better.

Alright. 3. Be clear about your priorities on these days, right? Your focus might not be where it normally is during these days — you have family, friends close to you, maybe people you miss and that come closer to home for the holidays, right? Kids on holidays, closing cycles…

Closing the school year… It’s very moving for me.

Yeah, for me too — we were talking about this before. Um, feeling strain on your mental health, whatever it is, right? Be explicit. Build bridges with others. Set realistic expectations and make clear strategies. Do what you need to minimize feeling guilty all the time. This is what follows us around, right? It’s difficult because we feel like we’re not where we want to be. Yes, exactly.
So create the conditions you need to enjoy that time, and be where you want to be. That is mental health.

Excellent.
4. Make time to take time off. Holiday season is not taking holidays, necessarily. And remember we are in a burnout society, in this society where we feel pressure to be all the time on, but we need time to take time off. It is only that way that we’re going to recover. The alternative might look very committed to you job, but you know what? It is really bad in the long run. How bad? Well… so bad, like you can’t take anymore and then, the only way
you see out is starting over, from scratch.

This is the big resignation you’re talking about?
Mmm… maybe.

Whole new episode, I think.

5. Accept loss as part of your life stories. Accept connecting to nostalgia; we can welcome and even celebrate nostalgia. Celebrate you got to experience love at a point even if that means you now miss it. Love and hope are renewable resources.

I like how that sounds. ’Cause it’s… you feel despair when you have — when you lose love and hope, right? It’s never gonna come back.

Yes, you feel like that. You feel broken. But then, it’s a renewable resource. Now, they might feel like all these feelings are depleted, but they can come back. You might even need a kick from meds to get through, but they can come back. And what if you need meds for this? If you don’t see how your love for life can come back, you are in need for them, so ask for professional help and get it. Mental health is health.

Good. Alright, 6. Accept the cost of taking your life in your own hands. Being the Grinch seems difficult, but if you just complain, you are throwing your pain at others. It is ok not to be ok, and it is ok if you hate Christmas carols and all the commercial bullshit around Christmas; it’s fine, it’s okay if you are not religious and the narrative of these festivities doesn’t get to you. So, if you don’t want to be with people, and you wanna watch Netflix as if it were a regular night, do it. But by accepting it, you also need to accept that you are not being part of the event, and what that implies for some people the rest of the year, right? This is a decision that you’re making for one night that can have consequences, let’s say, like we said last time. You’re making decisions for momentary situations that can have long-term implications. And if you
don’t really want to be the Grinch, then make an effort and join, even if it’s not 100%.

Nothing is 100% perfect. Remind yourselves of our diversity.

Take it as a challenge if you have to spend the holidays with people that you feel that arguments may come up or… Take it as a challenge, to see — like a videogame, right? How much of this shit can I take, right? [laughs]

And remember the power of compromise. Be kind with yourself and with others, but mainly to yourself, or you won’t be able to do it for others, you know? Give yourself a break. You have a lot on your plate, you’re doing the best you can, and once you have that down, be tolerant with others, because you never know what the other person is carrying.

This goes back to that episode we did on emotions, right? Always start with yourself, be kind to yourself, and then… alright.
7. Watch out for end-of-the-year balances. It is a new start, but maybe it’s not, and that is ok too. Many people do these balances on their birthdays, on other special days like their children’s birthdays — I do that.

[laughs] This is… a description of you.

Yeah. So what happens on the festivities is that everybody’s doing it at the same time, and that puts some extra pressure on your social network, like “who’s there for you?”. So be kind with how you make these balances. I like how New Year resolutions can be a great to set off on a new note, but we won’t get just one chance of starting on a new note. The new year means 365 new chances. So, patience. Keep trying.

And, you know, according to Forbes magazine, less than 25% of people actually stay committed to their resolution after just 30 days, okay?

That’s way less than I thought.

And only 8% of people actually accomplish those New Year’s resolutions, so it’s another reason to throw resolutions on New Year’s out of the window.

8. It’s just a couple of nights. Repeat that as a mantra: one night, a couple of hours. Hang in there. The world the day after will continue to exist just as it did before.

9. And if you’re going on holidays and anxious about that, we have a whole episode dedicated to that, so go ahead and listen to that episode before you go.

Alright then, we hope this helps; it’s our little christmas gift from The Everything Else to you, because we have got your backs.

That’s right! Take a deep breath and take this one day at a time [blows kiss].

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The everything else Podcast

A pretty entertaining podcast about soft skills, hosted by Vera Babat and Mercedes Remedi.