So, the holidays are fastly approaching. And if you are a traditional person and have lots of family to deal with it can be pretty stressful. It is such a shame that holidays in any religion has for many become a synonym for stress, mental health breakdowns and discomfort in all areas.
What is it that makes us so stressed when it comes to holidays?
Surely we are happy to see family and friends we might only see once a year? And it is nice to celebrate and have a wonderful meal together? I could, of course, go into many reasons why family gatherings can bring up conflicts that have been swept under the carpet for many years or why in today’s social media society it is so important to have the biggest turkey and the most luxurious looking festive dessert to show off in your pictures. But I am not sure if these are the most pressing reasons for the stress created when it comes to the holidays.
To find out I like you to do an experiment:
Get yourself a piece of paper and a pen. Write on top of the paper "Holidays" (any holiday will do no matter the religion). Then sit back, relax and write down any word or expression that comes to mind without thinking about it. Please write fast and write until nothing comes up anymore. When you look at your paper what sort of expressions and words do you see? Do they have positive connotations or do they create an atmosphere of dread?
This exercise helps you to figure out what you think and feel subconsciously about the holidays.
You might create a conflicting image about the holidays where you have positive and negative ideas at the same measure but there might also be more positive or more negative expressions. Either way, this exercise tells you what that other part of you, of which you are not always aware of, makes of the holidays. It shows you what attitude you have towards THAT time of the year.
You probably know the good old half empty or half full glass. People have the same amount of beverage in their glass but some think about it in a negative way (half empty) and some think of it positively (half full). It is surmised that those who think the glass is half full have a more positive outlook on life and will succeed more than those with a half empty outlook.
An example of how attitude affects the outcome of a situation
And in my experience that is true. I give you an example. I used to work in a supermarket and for a long time, I had trouble to get all the work done on a late shift even though it was possible to do it in time. I had done it before and I did it afterwards. So what was different in those times? Was I more distracted? Was it, in fact, more work and I did not realise? Or did I just not work enough?
When I was pondering shifts with similar workload, one of which worked out nicely and the other where I could not finish my workload, there was one thing different: It was my attitude and subconscious expectations that made the difference: on days that I did not manage my workload my mind worked like this: This is too much. I can’t manage this shift. There will be customers who want extra stuff and I can’t get everything done. On shifts that worked out nicely I was thinking like this: yes, it is a lot of work but I’ll manage. I have a good system and I will get it done. There will be someone who will help me if I need it.
How working with your attitude can change stressful situations
Once I figured that difference out I could work with my attitude: When I realised I was entering the land of negative thinking I could stop myself and change the track of my thoughts simply by changing the negative sentence into a positive one. And it might sound like hocus pocus but it worked. There is even a therapy form that works exactly with this mechanism: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy makes you realise the way you think in situations that stress you out. Then they help you to challenge the way you think about this situation: they use examples of a similar experience with a positive outcome and connect it with the stressful situation. This enables you to think in a different way in that stressful situation. And more often than not it works really well and the stress lessens a lot.
But what does all that have to do with our ability to survive the holidays in a calm and relaxed manner?
Well, I believe one of the most effective ways of dealing with the holidays is allowing yourself to change your attitude and to challenge your negative ideas about THAT time of the year. And it works for other situations too. And how do we do that?
Well, I wish I could tell you the secret that helps you to change everything pronto. However, changes do not work like that. To change one’s attitude is a process and needs a little bit of dedication to get there. However, the process does not need to be difficult. I believe three little habits can change your outlook on life (and the holidays) enormously.
I know, it sounds a little too simple and I might have lost half of you already but bear with me.
Video Resource: Kris Carr via YouTube
1. Talk to yourself nicely
Remember the exercise at the beginning of this post? The expressions and words you connected with the holidays have a lot to do with how you talk to yourself. We all do. Not loudly like old people but inside our lovely heads. We continuously tell ourselves what we think and feel about a situation.
Take a little time and try to concentrate what is going on in your mind.
What do you think about at any given moment? You will soon see that there is a commentary going on in your mind that explains life to you and also shows you how you feel about everything. I suspect there are many reasons why this is. My first guess? It is the messages we were getting when we were children. Did you love to dance around the tree at Christmas? I bet you got told not to because it is dangerous and you should not be silly. I also bet if you would decide to dance around the tree this year exactly these messages would come up in your inner commentary. I also bet if you have children you do the same to them to teach them to stay safe and fit in in society. After all, that’s your job, isn’t it?
You can change your inner negative talk
But if it worked from your parents to you why shouldn’t it work when you use it on yourself? Tell yourself the things you want to do not what you do not want to do. Because in a way you are your own parent now and need to make sure you stay safe and fit in society. But you also need to tell yourself how to be happy. And you are certainly not happy when you tell yourself that Christmas is terrible, the turkey will burn and you got all the wrong Christmas presents.
You do not need to believe me but chose one of the negative messages you connect with the holidays and change it into a positive message. Let’s say your message to yourself is: I freak if mum criticises my turkey again! Change it into “ I stay calm if mum criticises my turkey again” Tell yourself that every day in the morning until Christmas and if need be the whole year around and then see what happens.
Just try it out and see what happens
I believe you are like me and like my work shift in the supermarket went a lot better when I changed my thoughts about it your holidays or whatever you want to work on will change too. And you don’t even need to believe in it. Just do it and see what happens. Because that is exactly what I did in the beginning. I thought: “I have nothing to lose. If it doesn’t work I try something else” It’s not like it costs any money or you need to tell anyone. Do it in the morning when you get up. Or while you are in the bathroom. Do it at any time of the day just do it.
And yes, you could say to me: “ So why did you give up your job if you could change your attitude so easily?” “Good Question!” I would answer and then say “Dealing with a change of attitude towards your work doesn’t always change how you are treated and that you have the wrong job”. Sometimes there are different reasons why we can’t cope with a situation and then we have to change that situation. And in fact, it might turn out that saying to yourself “I stay calm when mum criticises my turkey” might lead you to not invite your mum ever again because there are more reasons than just your attitude why you reacted aggressively. But if that is the case I would suggest to see a counsellor or therapist and find out what the underlying problem is.
2. Appreciate yourself
When reading the above have you by any chance wondered why it doesn’t seem that easy to change your attitude? I so often think: “Why can’t I just change this behaviour or that?” I know why I react in a certain way and what I feel about it but I don’t seem to be able to keep talking to myself in a positive way or do other habits I know are good for me.
In summer I have read Louise Hay’s book about "Mirror Work" in which she suggests that most of our problems come from the fact that we do not love ourselves. She also mentions the fact, that we so often talk to ourselves rather nastily. We say and think things about ourselves that we would never say to someone else because it is rude and nasty. But for us, it seems to be ok. Why? Don’t we ourselves deserve as much love and respect than others? And if we talk like this to ourselves can we really successfully be gentle and caring with others? I suspect we can but it comes at a cost: The cost is that we feel depleted because we often do not get the same amount of gentleness and respect back that we do give. If we cannot give that love to ourselves and others can’t give it either what is left to us?
Is no self-love one of the problems with holidays?
And guess what? That seems to be one big problem when the holidays come around because we have to be nice to everybody. It’s Christmas (or any other applicable holiday) after all with peace and love for everybody, remember? Doesn’t that alone put a lot of stress on you?
But what is the way out?
Well, I suspect it applies what many motivational speakers say: If it's not there ~ create it. Create love for yourself so you can give and not be depleted. Sounds impossible? If it's not there surely we can’t create it out of thin air? Well, if you listen to Anil Seth a neuroscientist from the University of Sussex then how we experience ourselves and how we experience reality is in fact just a hallucination. He explains in this video that how we perceive ourselves and the world has a lot to do with how our brain works. In his opinion, our brain makes predictions about everything as it only reacts to electrical impulses that the senses give it. Which I think means that if we expect ourselves to be worthless we will experience ourselves as worthless. But if we expect to love ourselves our brain will develop a prediction of being loved. Louise Hay’s "Mirror Work" works with exactly that idea. She suggests to tell yourself in the mirror every day that you love yourself and you will over time develop self-love as your brain is going to predict love for yourself.
The Self-Appreciation Cup
My idea of a self-appreciation cup of your favourite beverage works with the same system. Give yourself some time every day with a cup of your favourite beverage and appreciate everything you have achieved. If you change your concentration from what goes wrong to what goes right you will develop more self-esteem because your brain does expect things to go right instead of wrong. Now, I would love to tell you that works instantly. It doesn’t. But I feel it is worth working on it. And again it is worth a try. What do you have to lose? You don’t need to tell anyone and can just say “I love you” in the mirror every morning and spare a thought for your achievements once a day when you drink something nice. Then see what happens. You even have enough time before the holidays to try it out and find out how you deal with the family stress this time. Go on. I know you want it ;-).
Video Resource: TED via YouTube
You might get the gist from what I have written so far that the secret to dealing with stressful situations, in my opinion, is changing your attitude to the situation as well as to yourself in that situation. The habits described help you to change your attitude. I believe we entirely underestimate the power of our brains and our thoughts. Any advertiser, motivational speaker, trainer and populist knows about that power and uses it. So why shouldn’t you?
The third and for now last habit I want to introduce might be known quite well
Many write about gratefulness lately. Gratefulness is the habit to appreciate what is given to us. You do not need to believe in a god or even be a spiritual person. I think it is a logical conclusion that if you have a roof over your head, have a job, have food, friends and family that you are a lucky person. We forget that so easily. We start to take for granted what is given to us but I suspect the latest wildfires or terrorist attacks show how in the blink of an eye we can lose everything.
My parents and my paternal grandparents were not particularly religious or spiritual people. But my parents always gave thanks for the meal we had and my grandparents never threw away any food that was still able to be used. They had experienced what it means not to know if you have something to eat the next day when they grew up and were young adults in the war. That made them grateful for every morsel they had to eat. I have wondered a lot if our problem with overeating and other bad food habits have something to do with the fact that many do not give thanks anymore. They take food for granted, something that you can waste because it is easily available. But this year's droughts and storms certainly taught us how fast our resources dry up (literally).
We do not like people who take us or things for granted
We also do not like people who take us or anything for granted. It is good manners to say thank you so why not make it a daily habit too? There are many ideas out there from Gratitude journals to prayers but I would suggest you start small. Add to your self-appreciation cup of your favourite beverage one thing that you are grateful for. Say thank you to the thing itself if you are not a religious/spiritual person or thank any higher being you feel close to. I found it amazing how my perception of me being a lucky person has changed since I started to write down at least three things that I am grateful for every day. I suddenly realised how many things I have achieved in my life and how much I have. We might struggle with paying the bills and get food on the table but we have something to eat and in the end, we get the bills paid. We are creative people we get there. I consider myself very lucky.
I believe this works for our holiday stresses too. If we can concentrate on the good things that come with the holidays we feel better and in turn will be able to deal with the more difficult things too. But as I said before: Don’t believe me. Try it out and find out if there is any truth in it :-)
I hope I could give you some motivation to change three little things in the upcoming Christmas time for a happier and more relaxed Holiday time. However, I said it earlier in this post: Using these three habits create gentle changes. You need to stay observant of your perception and how you deal with situations to see the changes. They do not come overnight and they do not come with trumpets and fanfares. They come quietly and gently and hug your experience of reality if you allow yourself to explore these ideas.
There will be times when you are frustrated because of course, you freaked out when your mother started her critical look over the turkey. There will be setbacks and that is normal because we have learned to see ourselves, the Holidays and our lives in a certain way for many many years. It’s small habits that change this view over time. I feel though it is worth to stick with it. Because those things which are build up slowly usually have a much bigger impact and last much longer than things that are build in a hurry. You are worth to give yourself time, love and happiness. There is a reason why I call myself a self-care explorer. Because expeditions and explorations need time. You experience obstacles and setbacks on your path. And we are all individuals with individual needs.
The idea of exploring self-care takes all this into consideration and allows you to take responsibility for your wellbeing and find your own personal way of self-care that is tailored to you and you alone.
What Are YOUR Experiences?
I am so curious :-) ! (Sorry for that :-) ). But please let me know which of these habits you have tried out and what you have experienced. Also if you want to get more ideas of easy habits of self-care sign up for the "The Bee Creates Newsletter" here. You get the "Free Mini-Guide To Self-Care" with two recipes and a journaling template that will help you develop happy and healthy self-care. I am looking forward to hearing from you!
In this sense:
TED Talks Anil Seth Your Brain hallucinates your conscious reality
Louise Hay Mirror Work
YouTube: Louise Hay | Guided "Mirror Work" for Self Love | Heal your Life
Happify daily: The science behind Gratitude
Positive Psychology: What is gratitude and what is its role in positive psychology
ReachOut.com Challenging negative thinking
MindWell: Challenging Negative Thoughts
Psychology today: 3 Ways your Believes can Shape your Reality
Fellow Bloggers Writing about How to survive the holidays:
Nicoles Journey: A Healthier Christmas
Paper beats World: Your Holiday Survival Guide
I am not a health professional. My posts describe my thoughts, my experiences and my conclusions about life, mental health and self-improvement. My described actions always go alongside therapy and do not substitute professional advice by a health professional be it a doctor, therapist or counsellor.
I invite you to try out self-care tools, however, if any of these make you feel uncomfortable please stop and do not go further ahead. Also, if any of the tools suggested bring up issues that need dealing with do not hesitate to reach out for professional help. To recognise when you need to stop and when to reach out for professional or any other help is one important part to learn when it comes to self-care.
Please look here if you need further guidance:
Government of Canada
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