I had a session with a client recently who was telling me that she was getting depressed following a conflict she had had with her young son and husband as they were setting up their Christmas tree. We were exploring her profound sadness about her conflict with son and husband, and she revealed that this was coming in large part from the fact that her Christmas preparations with family, and resulting conflict, were at odds with what she felt was the ‘Christmas Spirit.’ It was an obviously ‘less than perfect’ situation, and she admitted that her perfectionism was eating her up alive with self-doubt and guilt about it. Does this scenario sound familiar to you?
The old adage, ‘Nobody is Perfect,’ probably comes out in its most poignant form during the holiday season. Many of us, as a result of early childhood programming, struggle with perfectionism throughout the year, which can lead to much unnecessary self-inflicted stress, anxiety, and depression. This tends to get amplified as we start to deal with the pressure we put on ourselves with expectations, financial and otherwise, of ourselves and others during the Yuletide season. The sadness we experience as result of a lack of love from ourselves and others, manifested in any number of ways, is normal to a certain extent. The Holiday season, which is supposed to be a time of family togetherness, affection, and giving, can easily turn into much disappointment and bitternes when the opposite is the case.
So how can we cope with our holidays which can come along with all of the manifold expressions of imperfection? Here is my prescription for a happier, less stressful holiday season. First, give yourself a break and love yourself. This is not meant in a narcissistic, selfish manner. It means being genuinely compassionate with yourself when a negative, ‘beat myself up’ voice is happening chronically and can lead to a downward spiral of sadness and anxiety. Your emotions will be the barometer of how well you are doing with your thoughts about yourself and others. If you find yourself going downward with your mood, do your best to put your thinking in a different vein, and consider the positives, also, in any situation you are in. Positive thinking leads to a better mood and less anxiety.
Mindfulness, living in the now, not worrying about the past or the future, is another excellent way to hit the reset button in your thinking. Breathe through your anxiety and stress by taking deep breaths. Let out the tension with your outgoing breath. This can go along with mindfulness, to just notice your breathing, NOW. Deep, yogic, slow breathing triggers the relaxation response in the Central Nervous System, which is incompatible with stress and anxiety. If you are a Cubs fan, think of Joe Madden as your ‘mindfulness exemplar.’ Stay relaxed!
Give yourself permission to slow down and simplify. One of my clients was able to put a realistic ceiling on his family’s desires for gifts so that they do not have to face financial stress after Christmas. Generally, consider what is in the best interest of everybody, while striving to put your immediate family and their needs before the rest of your relatives. Do what will lead to the least stress and most happiness for all. Learn the fine art of speaking obligingly, even if you cannot oblige others. Practice negotiating and compromise as much as possible to maintain family harmony.
One more technique I teach my clients to better cope with trying interpersonal circumstances is to visualize oneself inside of a grounded gold-yellow, transparent cylinder (arm’s width length). This sends the message to the subconscious mind that one is protected from others when feeling vulnerable to manipulation; and it is also helpful when one is feeling over-reactive and needs to contain and collect oneself emotionally.
If you find that in spite of your best efforts you are still overwhelmed by stress, anxiety and depression during this Holiday season, it may be time to consider a free professional consultation over the phone with Dunham Counseling. Call us today! We have many other tools and techniques to help you deal with holiday stress, including family counseling.