Can the Holidays be Merry this Year?

Dear Vicki: This is supposed to be such a joyful time of year, but try as I might, I always end up sad and depressed around the holidays. And of course, with Covid this year, it’s even worse. I think of family and friends who have passed away from natural causes, and more recently a few from Covid, and I miss the holidays of my childhood. I am an adult who has been very content in her singlehood and happiest alone, but this time of year makes me question whether the effort I put into my legal career at the expense of relationships was wise. I know your blog is about relationships, but do you have any suggestions on how I can get through the holidays this year? I act like all the fuss is a colossal waste of time, but in all honesty, a small part of me wishes I wasn’t so automatically dismissive. I don’t expect to be joyful, but it would be great not to be so down. Signed: Sad in Sycamore

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Dear Sad: Bless you for reaching out. The holiday season is a complicated time of year for all of us, especially this year. If we were lucky when young, we had parents who tried to make the holidays as magical for us as possible. We likely didn’t see the sacrifices they made to do this, or the responsibilities they juggled to manage it all. Even if we were this lucky, few of us ever experienced the kind of highly idealized holidays that the advertising world seems to insist is normal. Yet when we admit that we just don’t have the time, energy, or means to meet the expectations they create, we feel like failures.

For those of us whose holiday experiences centered on friends and family, the inevitable loss of loved ones over the years no doubt puts a damper on things. And this year, due to Covid-19, we’re all being encouraged to stay isolated, or at least keep celebrations to a gathering of the immediate household. Naturally, we all long for the magic of more normal holidays and times when we could gather freely with family and friends. 

I want to assure you that these are all normal reactions and responses to our current situation and the procession of life through the years. People come into our lives, and people leave. There are wonderfully magical times, and times of sorrow and loss. That is life at its most basic. But that doesn’t mean we are destined to be victims of the past. There is much we can do to manage our response to the holidays this year, so let’s look at ways you can make a difference for yourself.

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Cancelling the Holidays During a Pandemic

Dear Vicki: I live in a state experiencing high Covid-19 numbers and we’ve all been told we should cancel Thanksgiving, and maybe even Christmas. I’m devastated! No family gatherings? No grandchildren? No best friends? Not even any neighbors? Just me and my husband? Why bother with a turkey or baking pies? I’m so depressed; we probably won’t have anything at like the normal holiday season I look forward to every year. Even my husband, who often complains about all he has to accomplish as part of “doing the holidays” seems a bit frustrated by the changes. Do you have any suggestions on how to cope with all this? Signed: Feeling Empty

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Dear Feeling Empty: During these difficult times, we find ourselves moving into uncharted territory: How does one “do the holidays” during a once-in-a-century pandemic? The short answer is that one does the holidays differently. And what that looks like will depend on the situations we find ourselves in. Do we have children living at home? Local family or friends with whom we’ve created a “pandemic bubble?” Weather that allows for outdoor events? How we approach these holidays also depends on our elemental personality, so let’s start there.

Given how upset you seem about not having “normal” holidays, I suspect that you are a primary Earth personality. Family and food, people gathered together, special traditions, etc. are of paramount importance to Earth people. This gives life meaning for them. But the holidays are not just for Earth people. Each of the other elemental personalities will have aspects of the holidays that matter to them, too. And remember that we all have all of the elemental personalities in our energetic wiring, so even though you are a primary Earth personality, you may find that some of what matters to, say, a Water personality might matter to you, as well. So, let’s look at what’s important to each of the elemental personalities during the holiday season and see how you might be able to incorporate aspects of each during a pandemic. I think you might be surprised.

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Managing a Tendency to Worry

Dear Readers: Welcome to a new feature of the Ask Vicki blog! Over the years, in addition to questions regarding relationships, as a naturopathic physician I’ve been asked about a variety of other issues. Questions regarding physical concerns, certainly, but also emotional, mental, and even spiritual issues, as well. And in truth, they are all relationships questions because they address how we relate to ourselves and our environment.

The answers to these questions are usually short and sweet, but also rational and logical. And of course, they are grounded in the Five Elements model! The information seems more important now than ever before, so I’d like to share some of these with you here. 

Question: 

Lately, I’ve found myself worrying more than usual. Of course, these aren’t normal times, yet I think I’ve done pretty well during the pandemic. But as winter approaches, I’ve started worrying more. Will we be able to have the traditional holiday celebrations? How will we connect with people if socializing outside isn’t an option? Will the people I care about stay well? And will this ever end? Is there anything that can help me stop worrying so much? 

Answer: When you catch yourself worrying, try the following: Take a deep breath, then on a slow and steady exhale, make the sound “ommmm” very softly. You may need to do this a few times in a row, but it will help. 

Why: This is a difficult time for everyone. In so many ways, “normal” life just isn’t normal anymore. Being asked to manage this level of change will absolutely throw our energies out of balanced. 

Within the Five Elements model, the tendency to worry sits in the Earth element. Earth energy embraces family, close friends, home, food, and special traditions, among other things. We all have Earth energy in our personality mix, and the changes the pandemic has created to life as we know it have certainly affected the balance of these energies.

When Earth energy is out of balance, it is easier to than usual to question everything. This often includes issues over which we have very little control. When there are no easy answers to our questions, out of balance Earth energy will tend to keep asking anyway, and this can lead to to what we call worrying. This is especially true when the stakes are high and the answers remain vague. 

Staying safe and holiday gatherings are both extremely important to Earth energy. At the present time, there doesn’t appear to be an absolutely safe way to approach the holidays in a “normal” fashion, but because both of these are really important, our Earth energy will keep thinking about it. Prolonged thinking about anything important without a suitable course of action can upset the balance of our Earth energy and rather easily become worry.

So, whether we are worried about the pandemic, the holidays, or something else entirely, balancing our Earth energy will help mitigate the worry. And to do that, try the simple exercise mentioned above.

Stay safe and well,

Vicki

She Changed, He Changed, Now Their Marriage is in Trouble

Dear Vicki: For the first time in almost 35 years of marriage, my husband and I are having trouble. Our children are raised and on their own, we are financially settled, but are fighting like we never used to. If I look back at when things changed, it was probably five years ago when my brother died and I had hip replacement surgery. Instead of the fun-loving, happy homemaker I had been, I became a warrior determined to come back better than ever. Initially, Brad was very supportive and encouraging, but not anymore. Once I recovered, I found that I actually liked being more assertive, even if it meant I was often angry or frustrated. But apparently Brad doesn’t like it. He’s been uncharacteristically opinionated and cruel, is working longer hours, and generally seems to be pulling away. I love him. Is there hope for us? Signed: Stumped in Stockton

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Dear Stumped: Of course there’s hope! There’s always hope. But there’s always change, too, and it sounds like you may have changed quite a bit five years ago when you faced the dual challenges of major surgery and the loss of your brother. Significant events in our life can and do change us, sometimes on a temporary basis and sometimes more permanently. So, let’s look at the ways the events of the past five years might have changed you and how you can work with that to rebuild a happy relationship with Brad.

You say that you were a “fun-loving, happy homemaker” before the surgery, but then you became a “warrior” while recovering from the surgery. And now you actually like your more assertive self. It sounds like pre-surgery you were probably acting like a primary Earth personality (happy homemaker) with a secondary Fire personality (fun-loving). However, post-surgery, you’re clearly acting like a primary Wood personality (warrior and assertive are both excellent ways to describe the primary Wood personality). So how could you have changed so much?

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Time with Her Brother Fries Her

Dear Vicki: I hope you can help me understand my younger brother. I love him, but he drives me crazy. Growing up, Gavin was very outgoing, to say the least. He ran instead of walked, jumped around when excited, and always seemed busy. When we were little, I wanted to stay inside and color or read, but that bored him. In high school, he was on the pep squad and in theater. Just watching him made me tired and irritable. It still does. We’re in our early twenties now and have both moved back home temporarily to take care of our aging parents during the pandemic. My parents love him because he’s funny, but he always laughs louder than anyone else, even at his own jokes. And he tells way too many jokes. Honestly, I find myself wanting to be around him less and less, which is pretty hard in a small house with so much shut down these days. What can I do? Signed: Exhausted

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Dear Exhausted: These are certainly trying times in many different ways. Moving back to your childhood home – even for a very good reason – is a big change and bound to be stressful. The incredible degree of uncertainty in the world these days is also stressful. And being thrown back into an uncomfortable dynamic with your younger brother is obviously going to be stressful. But while we can’t change the world right now, or even the people in your life, I can help you understand the personality dynamics between you and Gavin and offer you some suggestions on ways to improve them.

To begin with, as you describe him, Gavin is clearly a primary Fire personality. Fire people tend to be upbeat and outgoing, quick with a joke, and constantly in motion. They are usually happy to connect with people (current friends or strangers) and are firm believers in the old adage, “The more, the merrier!” And you are correct: Most people love being with Fire people because they are entertaining and just plain fun.

However, there are certain elemental personalities that can find Fire people difficult to be around. One of them is the Water personality. Water people tend to be quiet and reflective individuals who avoid crowded, raucous activities. Based on the fact that you loved coloring and reading when younger, and your basic reaction to Gavin in general, I suspect you are probably a primary Water personality. And as we know from nature, fire and water usually don’t mix well. The same can be true for people. Let’s look at why.

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