‘Tis the season to be jolly …’?

candles_and_lightsHow are you feeling – right at this moment?
Are you Happy? Excited? Anxious?
Does it seem that there is so much going on that you feel overwhelmed?

This is a time of year when many of us come together to celebrate, have fun and relax with family and friends.

However, sometimes it does not work out this way, and even having this intention can cause undue stress and anxiety, as we become embroiled in ensuring that we get the right gift for each individual or spend time with people that we don’t actually get on with for the rest of the year. We can become involved in mindless rituals[1] that have become routine (e.g. buying a gift for someone you don’t even like because it is expected of you) – without stopping to think – Is this right for me now? Am I doing this at the expense of my own well-being?

This time of year can also bring sadness and a longing for times past, for people that are no longer in our lives. It can also bring anxiety about the future, especially in view of all the change and problems that there are in the world. So our emotions can be mixed, confusing and even painful.

How do you include your own well-being in your plans?

How can you invest in what truly has meaning for you?

Some helpful questions that you can ask yourself include:

  • How am I feeling right now?
  • What causes me to feel stress, pain or sadness right now?
  • What could I do that would actively strengthen my physical and emotional health?

Here are 3 ways to help with your self care at this time:

candle1. Take a moment to stay in the moment

A simple Mindfulness practice involves learning how to pay attention to your immediate experience of the present moment, just as it is, right now. In order to do this, you can focus on the experience of yourself breathing, your body and bodily sensations, your thoughts and/or your emotions. Mindfulness is a process of observing, noticing, allowing and becoming aware of these things, without judging, evaluation or trying to change your experience.

Intentionally take time out from your day, find a quiet space, and practise mindfulness for a certain amount of time. Begin with a short, simple meditation, to help you focus. Please click below.

nightlight2. Be aware of your thoughts

Epictetus (the Stoic philosopher) once said ‘People are disturbed not by things but by their view of things’. This means that your thoughts are largely responsible for how you feel and your subsequent behaviour.

If you hold a rigid belief, or you are making a demand about a situation e.g. ‘They should not have said that to me’, ‘I can’t bear it’, ‘This is awful and I can’t stand it’, ‘I must do this’, ‘They must do that’, etc. then this is likely to have a strong bearing on how you feel in that moment and how you behave. This is not to say that you should not experience negative emotions and just view everything in a positive light – rather like a modern day Pollyana. But instead, consider adopting less rigid and more flexible ways of thinking which may lead to a healthier and less stressful outcome for you e.g. ‘I would prefer if x doesn’t happen and if it does, it would be bad, but not the end of the world, I can still cope’.

How you think not only affects you emotionally but also physically. Every thought you think is accompanied by biochemical signals that move throughout your body. Serotonin, dopamine, and epinephrine are neurotransmitters that affect all areas of your body, and their production is based on what you think and feel. Stressful thoughts filled with anger, guilt and hurt may have a physical consequence, which can lead to further health problems.

No-one is perfect. We are all complex and can be fallible and make mistakes from time to time. But this does not mean that we are worthless – we are still worthy of unconditional acceptance in spite of this. If we accept this we can learn to be present for all of our emotions without letting them define us. We can learn to express negative emotions safely without resorting to negative coping strategies such as drugs, alcohol etc.

Before criticising or condemning yourself for something, ask yourself whether or not you would criticise or condemn your best friend for the very same thing. If not, how would you think, feel and behave instead? Then apply this to yourself and treat yourself as your own best friend.

candles3. Make your own rituals

This is a time which can be laden with family rituals, including:

  • putting up the decorations,
  • planning the food,
  • visiting relatives and ensuring that no-one feels left out,
  • sending cards to everyone on your list – even people you have not seen in years,
  • finding just the right gift,
  • deciding how everyone spends time together.

Some of these rituals may be long held family traditions, e.g. ‘Oh we always go to Mum and Dad’s on Christmas Day …. Boxing Day …. New Year’s Day etc.’ ‘Oh … we went to Maud’s last year and now it is your turn this year’. ‘I must buy Malcolm a present … he would be so offended if I didn’t’.

Why do we do this? Sometimes these rituals can give us a sense of belonging – to family and community; of stability in a changing world; of connection to something outside ourselves. It can be our way of expressing love, kindness and a reaffirmation of our personal faith and belief.

Sometimes, quite simply, these rituals make us happy!

However, like everything else rituals can evolve over time. The family tradition that has been passed down can be allowed to change. Individuals and families can create their own rituals which have a particular meaning for them which may be different from what they have experienced in the past. Yes – there may be resistance to this, it may not be an easy process as sometimes there may be a pressure to conform. But what is important is that you invest in those rituals that have meaning for you personally and consider changing those traditions that may have outlived their purpose. Whatever you decide, set your intention, but be flexible. Don’t demand from yourself – and others – that things need to be a certain way otherwise everything has gone wrong! You may be pleasantly surprised, and relieved, that things can work out – even though they haven’t gone to plan!

Whatever your intentions are during this festive season – very best wishes from Gateway Therapy.

[1] Dr Mario Martinez, in conversation with Dr Christiane Northrup.