Many people experience an increase in distressing thoughts and emotions during the holiday season. For some it may be increased stress due to obligations and expectations; for others it may be loss, loneliness, or mental or physical health concerns. There are also many other personal reasons why the holidays can be hard. No matter what the reason, it is not the actual experience, but the meaning we place on our experiences (during the holidays or otherwise), that have a positive or negative impact on us emotionally.
What does it mean to create meaning? Meaning is the process by which we make sense of, or understand life events. If you are walking on a rocky dirt road, the rocks may seem like obstacles, tripping you up and slowing you down. But if a small child presents a rock to you as a gift, the rock has a completely different meaning; it becomes special, valued, and irreplaceable. We always have the choice to change what somethings means to us, and to create a more positive, helpful meaning for our own life experiences. Creating meaning is both personal and vital to enduring difficult times.
No matter what you may be experiencing, the holidays can mean a time of reflecting on our lives with gratitude, even if we have had losses and hardships. We can create meaning by being grateful something happened, even if it has ended or our lives have changed. Daily gratitude practices nurture positive emotions, increase life satisfaction, and helps us deal with stress and hardships. Instead of always looking at what’s wrong, gratitude teaches us to see what is right, which makes life more meaningful.
Creating a positive experience for others can add meaning in our own lives. Whether it be by volunteering, seeking out an old friend, being there for someone who is suffering, or simply being encouraging or kind to someone, even a stranger. Our own experiences of pain can mean that we are better able to understand and relate to others. This can make our suffering take on a different, more helpful meaning.
Other ways to create meaning can be bonding with a pet, creating a deeper relationship with yourself, choosing a hero and researching their life, finding a new hobby, noticing everyday miracles like our human bodies, miracles in nature, even technology is pretty miraculous. No matter what your spiritual beliefs are, feeling connected with something outside of yourself can increase feelings of gratitude, purpose, and meaning. Creating meaning can help us to live well, despite life circumstances and experiences, and can make the holidays more joyful for all.
Doty Collins, LCSW, has worked in different areas of the social work field since 2006. She has experience working with substance abuse and addictions, dual diagnosis, depression, anxiety, and PTSD. She has also been trained in alternative and complimentary chronic pain treatments, as well as brief therapy techniques. She works in the Pocatello Health West Clinic at 1000 North 8th Avenue.