In our society, and in the field of psychology, we have largely been taught that it is essential for people to experience their emotions fully and that this is the only way to move forward. Especially within the context of loss and grief, it is important to honor your feelings and who or what you have lost. Research and clinical experience indicates that emotions come and go as waves and it is only by trying to stifle them, avoid them, or push them away that people inadvertently end up perpetuating them. Psychologists work with clients to approach rather than avoid their emotions, sit with their emotions, and develop strategies (such as coping skills or emotion regulation skills) to navigate strong emotions.
A common misconception about grief in particular is that proper grieving should look a certain way and that all people who are doing it properly are 100% in the process, going through Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s well known stages of grief ranging from denial to acceptance with a defined path in between that includes anger and bargaining. Prominent trauma experts in the field have also developed treatments for trauma and grief that emphasize exposure to negative emotions and processing the traumatic event or loss fully. The truth is that there is no correct way to grieve or process a loss and that in many instances, it is actually beneficial for people to utilize distraction in order to get through incredibly difficult situations. Psychologist, Dr. George Bonnano, of Columbia University Teacher’s College is a bereavement expert and has done research that backs the concept that not all people process grief or trauma the same way and that the differentiating factor that leads to healthier outcomes is resilience which he describes as the ability to maintain healthy psychological functioning by using emotion regulation and coping skills. Bonnano talks about a range of coping or emotion regulation strategies, including distraction, that are effective and healthy (Bonnano, 2013)
When people are confronted with extraordinarily intense emotions or challenging situations, it is not so easy to just sit with them. Healthy emotional functioning involves utilizing a range of strategies to manage emotions. Distraction is one of many forms of emotion regulation that is adaptive to use. It is helpful when faced with extremely intense emotions, in instances when someone just needs to get through a situation and tolerate distress and there is nothing proactive that can be done at that moment, and in situations when people are just learning how to cope and before they are fluent in a range of strategies.
If someone is experiencing grief or loss (which may be accompanied by trauma), distraction can have the positive effects of keeping people grounded in the present rather than getting lost in grief, developing confidence in their ability to manage the intense feelings, and enabling them to titrate their emotional response so they are able to also experience and honor their feelings. In fact, a psychiatric disorder called Complicated Grief can develop if people are unable to use coping skills with an orientation toward managing the loss and instead maintain a single-minded focus on the loss and nonacceptance of the loss. Complicated Grief can lead to dangerous habits like creating shrines to the person they lost and an unwillingness to live in the present and move forward. In most extreme circumstances, Complicated Grief can lead to feelings of wanting to reunite with their loved one and can result in suicide.
The bottom line is that it is healthiest to respond to difficult situations like loss with cognitive and emotional flexibility and a willingness to use coping skills to manage intense emotions so that people do not either completely block their emotional response or get consumed by it. Seeing a licensed therapist after a loss can be extremely helpful, as therapy can aid in the development of a range of coping skills.
There are plenty of reasons why New Year's Eve can elicit feelings of depression, wistfulness, and even regret about the past year. In our society there is immense pressure to make New Year's Eve the ultimate celebration, watch the ball drop, share a New Year’s kiss at midnight, and set resolutions. But what if you don’t have anyone to share a kiss with, a party to go to, or feel like the past year was a wash? It can be difficult to get motivated to go out and celebrate. It is important to keep in mind that these traditions were brought about by the commercialization of New Year's Eve and it is okay if you don’t feel up for buying into it this year.
Certain people are definitely at higher risk of feeling bad during New Year's Eve such as those who recently experienced a loss or breakup, people who are newly sober, or anyone who is coming out of a particularly tough holiday season. In terms of those who are more susceptible to feeling bad about staying home, NYE at home is the ultimate FOMO. The “shoulds” are endless. Then, to make it worse, you are home alone instead of having all the distractions that being out with others would bring. If you are extroverted and get energized by being around others, it can be especially difficult to feel like you are forced to stay home alone because you don’t have plans with anyone. Lastly, New Year's Eve is the prime opportunity to reflect on your past year. Reflecting on the past can be very difficult for someone who has had a hard year or someone who struggles with feelings of worthlessness or never being good enough.
5 Ways to Reclaim New Year's Eve
1. As an alternative to the usual, you may try attaching personal meaning to New Year's Eve, and reclaiming it with new traditions. Do some research on traditions in other cultures for fresh starts of the new year; start a gratitude journal or just start a journal in general; clean your home; or get a new look. The easiest way to flip the script on New Year's Eve is to think about your values and come up with plans to live more in line with them. You also can reflect on the past year in a different way by writing down all the things you are grateful for, or you can make New Year's Eve the night of fresh starts and purging the old.
2. A life led in line with your personal values is the best way to truly find your authentic self and learn to appreciate it. It is important to give thought to your values and then break them down into achievable and measurable tasks that are in line with them. If you value knowledge but haven’t been in school in years, take a free class or read a new book. Then, give yourself credit for it as such. Far too often, people do things that may be right in line with what they value but because they do not frame it that way, they miss an opportunity to feel a sense of accomplishment.
3. Give yourself permission to spend New Year's Eve however you please. If you want to stay home and watch the ball drop on tv and have your own party with yourself, that would be great. If you do not want to watch any of the news coverage, that is great too. Find something enjoyable to do like watch your favorite movie, indulge in a bubble bath, and/or have your favorite food to eat. Dress up if that will make you feel better or revel in an opportunity to get cozy in PJs.
4. Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come up. If you are feeling sad or lonely, understand that emotions are not dangerous and they come and go naturally. If you try to push away an emotion, that is when you will actually perpetuate it.
5. Instead of a New Year’s Resolution, most of which end up getting broken anyway, do something to feel better about yourself that is not oriented around this tradition. If you feel the last year was a disaster or just a wash, try to give yourself permission to let that go and move on from it. Make a list of things that you are letting go of as you move into the new year. Aim for a fresh start. Maybe you have been wanting a new hair style or just want to schedule time to pamper yourself. Alternatively (or in addition), you can do a deep cleaning of your home to start the New Year fresh.
The main idea is to have a solid plan in advance for yourself, give yourself permission to feel and do what YOU please, and find your own way of symbolically moving forward. Let 2019 be about you!
When people think about symptoms of anxiety, their minds typically go to worrying, panic/anxiety attacks, and fear or phobias. They might imagine that if they were struggling with anxiety then they would feel their heart racing and feel restless for much of the time. However, there are several lesser-known symptoms of anxiety, which are not necessarily less common, but can more easily be overlooked or discounted as something else. If you notice yourself or someone you care about exhibiting these symptoms, check in with them as they may be struggling with undiagnosed anxiety.
1. Inability to let a thought go. If you just cannot seem to get off of a topic or let it go, it may be because you are anxious. A key component of executive functioning is set-shifting which involves being able to move onto the next idea or task. Anxiety decreases your ability to do this and makes it more likely that you will find yourself perseverating on small details or the same issue for days/weeks/months on end.
2. An increase in symptoms of another psychiatric disorder such as an eating disorder or depression. It may be the case that you struggle with depression or an eating disorder and those symptoms have decreased. If you have a history of an eating disorder and suddenly experience a surge in concerns about body image and eating, you may also be struggling with anxiety and it is manifesting this way. Additionally, depression and worry often go together and anxiety can trigger depression.
3. An increase in relationship problems such as becoming more controlling or nit-picky with your partner. Suddenly everything your partner does becomes really annoying and every little thing is affecting you like nails on a chalkboard. You may find yourself correcting your partner over minor things like word choice or what they are eating or doing. Often this type of critical and controlling behavior comes from a need to focus on something aside from what you are actually anxious about or you may want to feel like you have control over *something,* the latter of which is a more commonly observed and known symptom of anxiety. Another reason for this could be that you are feeling very edgy and are taking it out on the person closest to you.
4. Indecisiveness. If you find you cannot make simple decisions like what you want to eat or which pair of shoes you like, it is highly possible that you are really struggling with anxiety. It is important to ask yourself where the indecisiveness is coming from and if you are, for example, worrying about making the wrong decision and second or triple guessing yourself.
5. Procrastination. Not only might you want to avoid doing work or facing a bill in the mail, which is more common, but if you are putting off or avoiding other things like reaching out to friends or cleaning your home, you may be experiencing anxiety.
6. Sluggishness or feeling very tired can indicate that you are experiencing less restful sleep than usual or are not getting enough sleep. Difficulty sleeping is a commonly known symptom of anxiety. Also, while some get keyed up and agitated when they get anxious, some find themselves slowing down and getting sluggish. Think fight or flight.
7. Frequently getting sick. If you’re under stress, your immune system will certainly take a hit. If you find that you keep getting sick, consider whether you are experiencing anxiety.
8. Weight gain, especially in your midsection. Having heightened cortisol levels for extended periods of time can lead to weight gain and bloating in your stomach. High levels of cortisol can lead to blood sugar drops which leads to craving sweets. Even without “stress eating” or changing your eating habits, you may find that anxiety leads to weight gain. Other symptoms of anxiety like decreased sleep can also lead to weight gain.
Recognizing these lesser-known symptoms of anxiety can of course lead to getting treatment faster, but it is also very important because simply understanding your own behavior and having those close to you understand it can be hugely helpful.