This past weekend, like many have been doing around the world, I moved my clocks back. Now sunset comes an hour earlier, and the days are getting shorter and shorter.
The earlier darkness brings up a desire to cocoon. By five pm, I’m done for the day, and by seven I’m ready to snuggle up on the couch – not finish dinner and take my son to soccer practice.
For those of us in the Northern hemisphere, this move towards darkness can affect our moods, eating habits, sleep routines, and our desire for connection.
Many people have shared how they use food, sugar or caffeine in the afternoon or evenings to push past the natural fatigue that arises at the end of the day. Food can be a way we try to keep on keeping on – especially if our to do list is still calling, or children, loved ones, or pets need tending.
And as we move towards the holiday season, we can feel pulled by more to do, and by more we’d like to do.
Holidays often bring more busyness. They also bring all our longings for nurturance up to the surface – things like belonging, mattering, significance, warmth, contact and closeness, being received, and being seen and known.
You may feel a pull for more community. You may long for more closeness and connection. You may long for deeper friendships, or time with loved ones.
Or you may feel the pain of distance and disconnection with loved ones – unhealed ruptures or painful relationships that continue to fester. You may feel disappointment, frustration, grief, anger or longing that your loved ones aren’t able to meet you in the way that you’d like.
This combination of longing and unmet need can leave us feeling agitated, anxious, irritable, funky and out of sorts.
In this funk it’s easy for food, media or food and media to become our primary source of relational or physical nourishment. It can soften the pain, and it can offer substitute nourishment.
Food or media aren’t bad – they can be beautiful ways of connecting and being nourished. In my house, we always watch Little Women at this time of year, a long standing tradition. And we’ve begun crafting our menu of our favorite feast foods for Thanksgiving.
But underneath the surface of our favorite holiday shows, feasts and planning, we can feel an undertow of sadness, irritability, or anxiety that remains untouched.
This undertow contains all our unrealized desires for connection and closeness. The painful residue of past holiday seasons – or disappointing or hurtful relationships – can live on in your body, and arise with the turning of the page to November.
This pain and longing comes out in our habits and rhythms, with food and relationships and general.
For example, my desire for connection at the holidays can send me on a quest to find just the right gift to help a loved one feel appreciated. Or I might try to create an ideal holiday. My desire to belong can lead me to overcommit and overdo.
I imagine you have your own ways that you try to seek connection and closeness during this time of year – and ways that may also cause you pain.
It helps to bring compassion and kindness to this time of year – and compassion and kindness to the ways we care for our relational needs. When we can see that our overdoing at the end of the day, or our overdoing at the holidays are connected to these longings, we can feel less critical and more curious towards ourselves.
In all these things, we’re seeking a place of warmth and connectedness – and trying to keep the ouches away.
It also helps to give ourselves lots of warm support and spaciousness so we can grieve. We need safe, warm arms where we can feel our sadness, disappointment, and grief – to let down and mourn all our ideals for the holidays we’d like to have, or the family we’d like to have, or the closeness that has evaded us.
Grief is a cleansing tonic. It eases the agitation and anxiety. It softens the pursuit of trying to create a perfect holiday.
On the other side of grief, we feel better: some of those places that have been so alone inside have been met with loving care. We carry and feel less pain.
And having warm, tender spaces where we can cry our tears, paradoxically, allows us to take in the connection, warmth and delight that is here, to enjoy the friends, family, or loved ones we do have, in all their quirkiness and imperfection.
In the wake of grief, we feel more playful and open. We’re less hard on ourselves. We’re less hard on others. And we may feel a little less stuck in food or Netflix bingeing.
Grief – letting the disappointment empty and flow – takes such good, good care of us. It’s a helpful friend to nurture a holiday filled with more joy, ease and connection.
We soften and grieve, we offer support for those places inside, and we feel better. I wish you warm arms to care for all the longings that arise for you over the coming weeks.