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Embracing the (Messy) Winter Season
By Cassie Nelson Craig, Upper School Counselor

As we round the corner on the end of the year, life is demanding a little more. Snow pants and pancakes in the Lower School, and end-of-year exams for our upper grade children. And of course, the ever-present and growing list of holiday gatherings, gifts, food, family time, and perhaps even weariness around unmet resolutions from the year. It might be unreasonable to be stress-free during this period, but some awareness of our needs and wants can make this season a little more merry and bright.

Know Your Non-Negotiables

We often make a monetary budget for the holiday season, but we forget to make an emotional budget. Think about emotional energy as currency spent and gained. It is important to know why you are doing what you are doing, and it might be worth even writing down what your high-, medium-, and low-priority items are for this season. 

If you find yourself staying up half the night making the family newsletter because you (mostly) enjoy it, then carry on. If, however, it feels like an unfulfilling “to-do list” item, you could choose to do something else with those emotional dollars. Author Brené Brown uses the “5-5-5” rule - how much will this matter in five minutes, five days, or five years - as a way to gain perspective. Gretchen Rubin, happiness guru, also reminds us that “perfect need not be the enemy of the good,” meaning that when we aim for perfection, we waste valuable energy that could be used to achieve a lasting good. 

Communicate Your Needs

In seasons where downtime is limited, your mind can go into over-processing mode, which can lead to less talking and more assuming. After you have clarity on what is most important, practice communicating it to those around you, and ask them to do the same.  

From a fairly young age, children can do this too, and it can sometimes help lessen the intensity of meltdowns. Ask your Lower School student, “What are you most looking forward to over break?” Stay open to their answer, and help carve out time to make it happen. Navigate moodiness from your Upper School student by giving them some advance warning on planned events, so they feel like they have some control of their schedule. If other events have flexibility, invite them to have some input on when and how they happen. 

Communicating our needs does not mean that everyone will like what we do, but not saying is sure to leave us looking for someone to blame when things do not work out. Enjoy this short, funny video on complexities of blame from Brené Brown. 

Acknowledge Big Feelings

The winter season can bring out big feelings. When we gather with family, we remember the ones that should be here but are not. Sometimes, even when we know our needs and say them, we get disappointed. It can be the season of numbing feelings as well, as our purchases and our food and drink help us push away what is hard to feel. 

Unfortunately, certain feelings (anxiety, sadness, anger) just grow larger and larger when we ignore or avoid them, and what began as a spark now becomes a big flame. The good news, however, is that when we make some room to name what we are feeling, and accept that it is where we are in this moment, our brain can move more quickly to processing why the feeling is there and what we might need to do next. 

Dave Mochel’s work on applied attention reminds us that our brains are “always practicing something,” and that each time we engage with a new way of behaving, new brain pathways are created that make it easier to execute the same behavior next time. So as big feelings arise, we also get the opportunity to create a new way of relating to them. 
Whatever your winter season brings this year, may it have an extra serving of warmth and light.