Thanksgiving has left me full and tired.

I am full – not only of turkey, dressing, and mashed potatoes, but with gratitude and thanksgiving for family and friends.  I am tired – exhausted from filling myself with so much food and from the emotional toll that often accompanies the holiday seasons.

Now that the feast and holiday of Thanksgiving is done, I have begun to anticipate the holiday of Christmas and all that it entails: various sights, sounds, and smells which have certain bitter-sweet associations attached.  Due to the anxiety that comes about as a result of worrying what Christmas might be like, I am consciously deciding to avoid the holiday hum “bug.”

“What is the holiday hum “bug’?” you might ask.

It is the opposite of what I would consider caring for myself. It’s “checking out” of life or rushing through life during the holidays; it’s the avoidance of participating in activities that might be of help – whether talking to a trained professional, beginning a new tradition, or being gentle with oneself.

Over the past sixteen years, I have indeed caught this “bug” on occasion.  Either “checking out” or over-doing it were temptations, particularly around Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthday celebrations, and other holidays.  It would have been much easier to avoid or rush through this time of year than be in the midst of various holiday celebrations.

This year however, I plan to incorporate into my daily routine and weekly schedule activities that will help me remain awake and alert during the most “wonderful time of year,” rather than tune out the experiences that still are part of my life.

I have included both old and new traditions that I find help me survive the holidays – all of which are centered on care of oneself and participation within the larger community.  For example:

1. Being Gentle with Myself: I find ways that help me remember that while this season is one for giving, it is also one for receiving.  Caring for myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually are ways to give myself a great gift, enabling me to survive the holidays.

2. Remembering Others: Focusing attention on other people rather than always on myself is another practice that has helped me get through the holiday seasons.

3. Participating in Favorite Pastimes: By participating in various pastimes, I am able to de-stress for a short while.  I can take a reprieve from the pain and focus on the fact that despite all of life’s challenges, there are many graces; many opportunities to experience joy and happiness.

These three practices, along with a variety of others, have helped me to survive an emotionally-laden time of the year and to experience, as best I can, the holidays.  In so doing, I have avoided the holiday hum “bug” and an occasional “Achoo!”

Kate McGrath 2010

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Kate McGrath

Kate McGrath

My journey began on March 22, 1986. There is nothing any more or less significant about my story than there is another person’s story; however, my story is unique nonetheless. I am twenty-four years old, a graduate student working towards a degree in Mental Health Counseling with a concentration in Thanatology, and an admirer of the simple gifts in life: refreshingly cool air, hot apple cider, the way leaves pick up and float gently in the air. My story has had its share of challenging moments, one of which was the loss of my older brother and only sibling, John. John was involved in an alcohol related motor vehicle accident. This event has undoubtedly shaped who I am today and who I want to become, professionally speaking, in my future. Grief, I have found, has an uncanny sense of humor – it can shake you to your core and simultaneously help you to see more clearly the importance of each day. While the death of my brother is a significant chapter in my life story, I have grown from that tragic experience and have come to realize that because of that chapter, I am at a place where I doubt I would be had my brother not died. I am grateful for the gift of my life; along with the many experiences I have had thus far – the bitter and the sweet, and have found that often, the bitter moments are what make life more significant. If my life had involved only moments of joy and happiness, I wonder if I would be able to recognize that individual quirks of others, someone’s voice, even the way someone’s clothes smell, are indeed memories to hold onto – from my experience, I believe those would have been taken for granted. All chapters in my life have been formative – and for all of those, I am grateful.

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