“If one were to devise an experimental set of circumstances which would test the integrity of an individual’s mood control, one would invent the year-end holiday season.” Jonathan Himmelhoch (Psychiatrist, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic)
If you or someone you know are feeling down during the holiday season, there’s no need to worry. There are ways to cope with the holiday blues without resorting to unhealthy habits. This article will give you some helpful tips for getting through the holiday season and finding peace of mind.
Stress Depression and the Holiday Season
The holiday season blues are authentic, and according to at least one study, about half of us experience the holiday season blues (the survey reached 786 adults 18 years or older Fall of 2006). But some people can’t find peace of mind, so they suffer the holiday season blues because they entered the holiday season already feeling sad, depressed, anxious, etc. In addition, the seemingly joyous time of the year enhances their depression and anxiety. As a result, many people feel more sad, depressed, and anxious during this time than at any other time of the year.
What causes these feelings? Is it something in our genes that makes us susceptible to the holiday season blues? Or is it something we do, like spending too much money on gifts for family and friends? Are there ways to avoid getting into the holiday season blues?
No other times of the year evoke such strong emotions as this time of year. We may be excited, joyous, and filled with wonder and anticipation at this time of year. We visit family and friends, host parties and gatherings, and spread joy wherever we go during this holiday season. As joyous as we may be, the expectations for a “Rockwell Christmas” haunt even the best of us. Yet, despite this, some of us may feel quite the opposite during this time of the year.
Those who have recently lost a loved one, those suffering from physical or mental health concerns, those who have been separated from their family members, or even those who have become estranged from their families come to mind. But unfortunately, the holidays haven’t always been enjoyable for some people, and many feel trapped in their current lives.
Embrace Peace of Mind to Combat Holiday Season Blues
Regardless of how we feel about the holiday season, this time of the year finds many of us feeling the burden of perfection and a lack of peace. As joyous as we may be, the expectations for a “Rockwell Christmas” haunt even the best of us.
While we still have our day-to-day tasks, we must decorate, buy gifts, and attend social functions. These expectations, especially if we feel obligated, can cause stress and anxiety even in those who enjoy the holiday season. Now imagine the stress and anxiety felt by those who are merely trying to cope with life itself, let alone the added expectation of the season.
How To Help Others Find Peace Of Mind While Coping With The Holiday Season Blues
What can we do to help someone suffering from finding peace of mind during this holiday season?
· Create awareness within yourself and your children that not everyone feels joyous this time of the year. This awareness is not meant to burden us but as a recognition of the reality of others.
· Create an environment where all people feel open to honestly sharing their feelings. While attending or planning parties and gatherings, don’t encourage everyone to participate. Instead, be respectful of those who are having a difficult time participating. Try to plan activities that would allow a person to participate in the degree to which they feel comfortable.
– It is important to know that your expectations of a holiday celebration may differ from those of others. Therefore, be flexible and open to the traditions of others and their feelings during this time. For example, you should consider any family members who have been experiencing a challenging year when you plan the family dinner.
– The space and time to speak, or to refrain from speaking, is up to them. Understand that it may have taken them a great deal of effort to appear in the first place. Be aware that they may have had significant challenges.
– I urge you to be a supportive friend to anyone you know who is afflicted with mental illness or experiencing emotional distress. Be present to them, even if you cannot speak with them. Be sure to never underestimate the positive impact and healing quality of being present. Encourage them to attend small gatherings with you if possible and appropriate. Surround them with people who have their best interests in mind.
– If they do not have expectations placed upon them by themselves or others, you should encourage them to engage in activities that promote their emotional well-being and physical health. Suppose you would like them to understand that prioritizing themselves is not a sign of selfishness. In that case, it is essential for your well-being.
– Take time from the busyness of this season to be an active listener to those who wish to share their feelings. Encouraging and allowing others to share their feelings may be the most helpful thing you can do for them. If they are reluctant to share, lovingly help them by letting them know that you will listen without judgment, regardless of what they wish to talk about and share.
During this holiday season, as many of us join together with our families and friends, let’s be grateful and joyous in our traditions and fellowship. But let’s not forget those emotionally suffering during the holiday season. Being respectful, understanding, and lovingly present is the best holiday gift a person can receive.
Trying to accomplish change and reduce stress seems impossible. Change itself brings on stress, so how can change minimize stress? I thought that, too, until I started practicing mindfulness in the Autumn of 2012. Let me explain.
Let’s go back to the 1980s when I snapped this picture while living in an unassuming community in western Massachusetts. It was Autumn, and I was taking a hike when I came across this view. Many people I know will more often than not get energized, liven up, plan for, and are empowered as Spring moves into Summer. Not that I could do without Summer; however, as far as I’m concerned, I react similarly at the start of Autumn. Autumn is by a wide margin my most loved season (with Winter a nearby second).
For as long as I can recall, I have delighted in Autumn. Experiencing childhood in the northern regions of the USA, I’m used to the colder seasons. Of the relative multitude of seasons, this one is mainly centered around family, traditions, and spiritual rituals. During this season, there are social occasions, gatherings, and the start of school. Halloween and Thanksgiving are close, with Christmas not excessively far away. The cooler weather conditions move us nearer together as we gather inside.
Trying to effectively accomplish change during this season of life is challenging for some. I’ve written many articles on stress and depression during this time of the year. Attempting to reduce stress as the holiday season approaches is difficult for some. For some, this is a time of devastation, with the vegetation ceasing to exist and the daylight more limited. Yet, as we focus on the moment, we can also experience a lot of variety by hearing the leaves crinkle underneath our feet and smelling the cornucopia of fragrances attacking our noses.
Autumn might be a period of rot; however, in the progress of time, we are given a most tremendous and lovely gift; the empowerment of progress. It is, ideally, a gift to rouse us. For my purposes, I see excellence before I see the rot and devastation. There is likewise a wonder in the acknowledgment that after this season of devastation will come a time of resurrection and new development in the blossoming of Spring. Autumn isn’t the end, just the start.
Autumn addresses change as it changes itself. During the time spent transforming, we feel the aggravation before the delight. In our personal lives, we may now encounter and feel rot and destruction as our stress levels rise. Yet our experiences are a piece of the circle of life.
Just as the trees will replicate their leaves and the fallen leaves will give nutrient empowerment to the ground, we will encounter new development of plants and flowers in the Spring. Autumn shows us that through the dark times of life, we will come out with reduced stress as change shows us the possibility of a new and incredible period of life.
Change is rarely straightforward, but it is essential to recollect that change, albeit unique, doesn’t need to be negative. The situations changing our life might be complicated; however, assuming we focus on the outcome, we will see that the difficulties of change and stress will bring us to our goal. As the leaves fall, we are guaranteed there will be Spring followed by Summer.
The pattern of life reflects the patterns of our lives.
The following are a couple of ideas I have thought of to help us progress through our Autumn to accomplish change and reduce stress:
1. Review the recollections of this past Summer. Value your encounters from the past season.
2. Recognize, don’t attempt to stow away, the past with its joys, damages, and assumptions.
3. Being grateful for all we have.
4. Prepare for and act upon what you have some control over, and set aside those areas of life you cannot control.
5. Experience this time of Autumn through the eyes of a child.
In every moment, stay focused on the details of your surroundings, taking in both the positive and negative aspects. Change what you can; ignore the rest. In time, the Springtime of your life will blossom.
Anxious feelings are understandable when returning to everyday life after the pandemic. There will be a process of readjustment. There are bound to be thoughts or worries about the changes that are happening in your life. It is natural for people to want to stay in their comfort zone. Entering the unknown is what causes our anxious feelings. However, there are several benefits to returning to everyday life, so it is crucial to fight those thoughts.
Many states are relaxing the pandemic restrictions allowing us to “freely move about the cabin.” We’ve been physically away from people for over a year, communicating primarily through the computer. Interacting with people after so long of a time can be anxiety producing. We’re either unsure of the safety of our health or uncertain about how to interact with people again. “So, as more people get vaccinated, and we accelerate toward a new normal, is it any wonder that some people are feeling hesitant to let go of precautions?” Source: NYTimes
Nearly half of Americans say they feel uneasy thinking about in-person interaction once the pandemic ends, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2021 Stress in America report. (USAToday) These anxious feelings happen most often when we feel out of control in a situation, or when the change is unknown. As humans, we prefer to think that we are in control of our life.
We spent many months adjusting to a “new way of life,” so it will take some time to again adapt to another new way of life, even if that life is what it used to be. Your lifestyle may return to what it used to be, but you aren’t who you used to be. You have been affected by living through a pandemic. Your mindset and outlook on life are different from what they used to be.
What is normal? Typically, normal is referred to anything we sense as a known or an expectation of a way life is to be. In other words, normal can be fluid, changing as we change. So, why be anxious about going back to normal? Let’s create a new normal!
In June 2020, I wrote an article, “The New Normal – 7 Valuable Lesson Opportunities To Learn Now” suggesting that we take the positive changes the pandemic caused in us, keeping them as we return to “normal.” My suggestion of almost a year ago remains valid. An LA Times article reports that some 46% said they do not feel comfortable going back to living life like before the pandemic. (LATimes)
How to cope with the anxious feeling:
1. Take it slow – No one is forcing anyone to immediately jump back into society. As you feel comfortable, start slow. Join a group of close friends, branching out from there.
2. Don’t wait for the anxiety to go away – A strong reason for your fear is the unknown. Until you venture into society, it will remain unknown. Therefore your anxious thoughts will remain. It’s only by venturing out of your comfort zone that you’ll reduce the anxiety.
3. Let go of resentments – We can’t control other people. There is no reason to hold resentment about other’s actions or the government’s actions. Control what you can control, your emotions, and your responses to what is happening. If you’re blaming others, let it go. Don’t let someone else dictate your happiness.
4. Change your perspective – Look at the world and those around you in a positive manner. We get what we look for. In other words, if all I see is negatively, then all I’ll experience is that negativity. So look to the positive, and you’ll get positive experiences in return.
5. Teach others – As you’re learning to cope and feel less anxious, teach others how you are doing it so that they too can move forward. Not only will you help another person, but altruism is proven to make the giver feel positive and more at peace.
If you’re feeling anxious, know that you aren’t alone. You can do things to reduce your anxiety, but the key is not to go through this alone. Reach out to others for support and camaraderie. And if you need a professional, find one of those, too.
Grief is a typical human experience, but the COVID-19 pandemic has upended many of the ways we usually manage the loss. Here are my tips on coping healthily with your grief.
Grief is one of those emotions that many of us think of only during the loss of a loved one. And while this is the grief, many of us experience grief, and the grieving process, can happen whenever we have a loss.
During COVID-19, we have experienced many deaths, and those events elicit feelings of grief, but almost everyone has experienced loss due to the coronavirus. We have lost employment, lost freedom of movement lost ability to meet with family and friends as we used to, and lost a sense of control over our lives. All of these are losses that can lead us to feel grief.
The Mayo Clinic reports that “In addition to feeling grief over the loss of life caused by COVID-19, you’re likely grieving the loss of your normal routine.” Check out my article on this topic written a couple of months ago by clicking here.
“Not only are people now grappling with the loss of normalcy, but also with anticipatory grief, or the feeling that greater loss is yet to come.” (Very Well Mind) Some of the grief we feel comes from feeling that we are not in control and worry about future changes. Focusing on the unknown of the future causes stress and anxiety, increasing the grief felt due to our losses.
Grief affects everyone differently, and for some, grief can be expressed through depression and anger. If you or a loved one appears to be depressed or is becoming “short-fused” or angry, the root issue may be stress created by underlying grief of a loss of normalcy.
If you or someone you know is experiencing grief, try these steps for coping with your grief. They work for me.
Using mindfulness, pay attention to your emotions. Keeping your thoughts and feelings in the present moment, experiencing your current feelings, will help guide you to understand those feelings you wish to change. Then you can take control of changing those feelings.
Stay connected to people. Even though many of us are social distancing and not gathering in groups, don’t isolate. Meetings with individuals while physically distancing allows you to stay in touch, as does technology.
Practice self-care. Do actions that are positive and healthy for you. Eat well, pick up hobbies, rest, and be kind to yourself.
Feeling well takes time. Changes in your emotional outlook take time, so have patience with yourself. You will feel better in hindsight, but while going through the emotion, it feels like forever. Remind yourself to let the process take its course.
Validate your feelings. Feelings are simply our response to a situation. Feelings are neither right nor wrong. So, how you’re feeling is valid. If you wish to change your feelings, fine, work on that, but don’t judge your feelings or use phrases like “I shouldn’t feel this way.”
Grief from COVID-19 is not your fault. Your losses are yours, as are your feelings. You have control over your response to what has happened to you. You are empowered to cope with your grief, healthily.
I’m re-writing this article to help me process my feelings and mental struggles with all that is happening in my country. I originally wrote this piece back in 2015, yet I feel it remains appropriate for 2020. I, and others, struggle with a response to what we are feeling as there are so many diverse feelings at the same time. How do we process, in a healthy way, that which we feel powerless over?
A conversation between the Optimist and the Realist
In my life, I strive to be an optimistic person, although, I think I end up somewhere in the middle between being an optimist and a pessimist. This middle area I like to refer to as “being a realist”. I’m fine with being a realist as I feel it keeps me grounded in what is happening around me and in the larger world; the good and the bad. Although, a problem in being a realist is there is little room for making a change to the events which are happening. The optimist sees potential for change while the realist simply sees what is.
Recently there’s been an onslaught of negative news in all of the media outlets. It seems that the more I hear and read the news the stronger my desire is to escape from it all. That’s the realist in me talking. I guess the realist in me is leaning toward the pessimistic end of the middle; a place along the scale I try often to avoid.
The optimist in me wants to join the thoughts and conversation with the realist. As I said, I try my best to be an optimist. If the realist in me would allow such a dialogue the optimist, how might it proceed? In the present reality of the tensions in the world, what could the optimist say without sounding either naïve or like a quote from a greeting card? What does the blend of a realist with an optimist produce?
The optimist in me views the world from the mindset that every challenge can be overcome, where peace and joy always prevail. Even if we can’t imagine how that might be true, the optimist motivates us to strive for it anyway. Without at least trying, a future full of hope will never be realized.
The joint dialogue of the optimist with the realist would take into account the difficult realities of the situations we face, yet devoid of naïve “answers”. In place of answers, we will feel a sense of hope; a hope fulfilled through practical action.
Here is what the conversation between the realist and optimist in me concluded:
- We aren’t alone. The struggles in coping with a world in turmoil are not yours or mine to struggle with by ourselves since there are many people who feel similarly. Seek out others who are feeling the same emotions as you and, instead of complaining or despairing, work together on creating practical solutions to the problems.
- We aren’t victims. A victim is a person who suffers as a result of events happening to them for which they are powerless to control. Discover the difference between what is and is not in your control. In this way, you can create reasonable expectations. Reasonable expectations allow us to actually do something resulting in our expected change. For example, it is unreasonable to make our goal that of world peace; while a goal of creating a peaceful home, work, or local community is a reasonable goal.
- Empower yourself and others. Educate yourself about the struggles and solutions tried in the past. Learn what worked and what didn’t work, figuring out why it didn’t work and what you may do differently to make it work now. Find and obtain the resources needed to carry out your goal. Our ability to work with others in finding a workable solution to problems removes the label of victim, replacing it with survivor. Although we need to be educated about the issues, it is also important to keep a balance, allowing for some news-free periods.
- Regain your power. Once we realize that we are not powerless, our desire to implement change brings about renewed strength and optimism. Recognize the power and strength that you individually, and you as a group, have. Find creative ways of using your power for the good. Do not let the power itself take over, for hubris makes one feel invincible, while in reality, even though we have power, we will not always make the proper decisions. Knowing how to learn from our mistakes is a sign of strength, for the knowledge gained from the mistake will help you to avoid that, or similar mistakes, in the future.
- Focus your energy. As I previously mentioned, our power and abilities are limited, so wisely focus your energy on those tasks which can be completed and not on those tasks you know are impossible for you to complete. No one person, or one group, can do everything.
- Empathy. As we learn about the issues affecting our world we begin to realize that many of our problems originate with us not understanding each other. We tend to view the world from our perspective and our history, failing to recognize that those with whom we may disagree are also viewing their world from their perspective and history. Finding solutions to problems presupposes that all parties agree on the nature of the problem. Empathy, placing ourselves in the shoes of another, provides us a deeper understanding of the concerns of others. By viewing the world through their eyes we will be better informed and so better prepared to find and carry out solutions, together. Empathy does not necessarily mean I agree with another’s opinion, only that I view the other’s opinion respectfully.
- Self-care. The realist in me recognizes that to accomplish all of this I will end up draining and wearing myself out. But in the union of the realist with the optimist, I recognize the need for self-care. Take time for yourself; keep up bonds with your family and friends; find activities or hobbies which do not relate to the work at hand; spend time in meditation and quiet to focus yourself.
I don’t propose these steps as solutions or answers to the problems we are currently facing. But rather as guides to keep us grounded in reality and yet passionate enough to still try to make a difference.
The “new normal” is a phrase that has entered our everyday speech, along with phrases such as “social distancing,” “physical distancing,” or “PPE.” Due to COVID-19 pandemic, our lives have been changed. The questions are, how much longer will our lives be changed, and will our lives ever be what they were before?
Therefore, the idea of a “new normal” worries some people and causes many to feel anxious. Friends of mine, and some clients of mine, lament that life may never be how it was before the pandemic. Yes, that may be true. But I wonder if a return to normal is what’s in our best interest.
When we focus on the new normal, we compare our present moment with the past of a few months ago. As I reflect on the past, I recall many positive aspects of our society. Yet, I also remember many negative aspects of our society. Might it be possible that this time of “difference” within our society can also be a time to create a “new normal”? Might this present moment be an opportunity to move into the future of possibilities?
I propose a shift in perspective so that we can take the positive elements of this present time and continue them when the pandemic is no longer an issue. Instead of a return to normal, let’s proactively work toward a positive new normal, which will, over time, simply be known as “normal.”
Here are my suggestions for valuable lesson opportunities we can learn from this new normal:
Re-define the phrase new normal
Normal is what we’re used to; for months, that routine has been challenged. Longing for normal means of longing for the past. What if we look to a “new normal” filled with possibilities?
Let go of victim thinking
These events were not targeted to you individually, even if you are affected by them. A victim is a person devoid of choices. You do have options today. Some aspects of life are beyond your control, while other aspects are in your control. Learn the difference and focus on those areas you can change.
Re-connection with family
The quarantine, for better or worse, forced families together in their dwellings. No family dynamic is perfect, but has your family grown closer? Have you eaten more dinners together or started game nights? Lack of commuting to work and fewer activities and meetings provide families more time together. How can this togetherness become our new normal?
Find your peace
Anger has a way of taking over our life, spilling onto people or events we aren’t even angry about. Our society is sharing in this everyday new normal, enabling us to better understand each other in our shared experience. Take the energy of your anger and shift it to a passion of service toward society.
I grew up before the commercial use of the internet, and before the existence of social media. I recall spending much of my time with my friends in person. During quarantine, we can’t physically spend time with friends, but we can use technology for good. Spend time with your friends via the internet, where you can see each and share in a group conversation and group activities. If this interaction with your friends is new to you, how can you maintain this new normal into the future?
Be kind to others and yourself
As society tries to cope, I find that most people seem a bit nicer and more patient. We’re in this together. Many messages we hear lately are reminders to take care of ourselves during the quarantine. This is essential daily, regardless of what is happening. In the new normal, how will you continue, every day, taking care of yourself and being kind to others?
What aspects of this new normal would you like to keep moving into the future? What would you like to change or stay the same? Start making a list now for you and your loved ones. Also, share with us here or on social media so we can learn from each other.
I challenge us to shift our perspective to no longer look at this period from a negative attitude but to look at it from a positive outlook. We can then create a future filled with positive experiences. Don’t let these past few months pass us by without us walking away with healthy learning. Let’s proactively shape the future we want to live in.
Yes, the future worries me. Interestingly, a year ago, I wrote and published this article on worrying about the future. Little did I know that a year later, this topic would be most appropriate.
As we continue to struggle with the societal effects of COVID-19, the future worries me. It’s, seemingly, more unsure than ever before in our personal history. Will we return to “normal,” or will the past “normal” never be experienced again?
If we stay focused on the future, then yes, we should be worried about the future. How do we cope with this worry? Read on as I offer my four tips for dealing with the future.
None of us knows the future. Therefore, by its nature, the future is unknown. Since it’s an unknown, it tends to be scary, because I can’t prepare myself for it. Therefore, the future worries me. As humans, most of us desire to be in control of our daily lives, although, no matter how much we strive for control, much of life is beyond our control. The future is one of those areas outside of our control.
When we feel that we can’t control an aspect of our lives, then we feel “out of control.” Feeling out of control is scary itself as we worry about where we will end up if we aren’t in control. So, the future is not only an unknown, but it’s also out of our control. Actually, the future isn’t in anybody’s control!
So yes, when the future worries me, it should! THAT’S NORMAL!
When I work with clients who share their worries about the future, obsessing over it, stressing over it, I help them understand that their future feelings are to be expected. If we are to dwell in the future, meaning, keeping our thoughts focused on the future, then we will be worried and anxious. The statement that the future worries me is deeply felt. I let my clients know that although what they’re feeling is a normal response to their thoughts, if they would instead not feel worried and anxious, then they need to do only one thing – change their thoughts!
Keeping my thoughts in the future causes me to worry and have anxiety. Does it not make sense that changing my thoughts and removing my thoughts from the future would cause me less worry and stress? The standard definition of insanity is doing the same action over and over, yet expecting a different result. Therefore, the definition of sanity is doing a different action and getting a different result.
Here are my four tips for coping when the future worries me:
- Refocus your thoughts: Throughout the day, whenever you feel worried or anxious, pause a moment to notice where your thoughts are focused. Are your thoughts focused on the past or the future? If so, this is the source of your worry. The future worries me when I dwell in the future. Consciously move your thoughts back to the present moment by consciously focusing on what you are now seeing, feeling, experiencing, etc. We have control over the present moment, so keeping our thoughts focused on the present reduces our worry and anxiety.
- Change your perspective: Perspective is how you see and interpret the world around you. Our interpretation is derived after being “filtered” through how you feel about yourself. If you’re negative about yourself, you’re most likely negatively focused on the world around you, and vice versa. Changing our perspective on an issue allows us to view a different way of thinking, which may help us find a solution different than those we’ve tried before. A different solution leads to a different outcome, and therefore sanity.
- Worst case scenario: When we dwell in the future, we tend to focus on what can go wrong (TIP: a change in perspective would be changing your focus from what can go wrong to what can go right. Why must it be negative? Since I don’t know my future, why focus my thoughts on only one option, the negative option? Since I don’t see the future, isn’t it possible that it could be positive?). Since you’re already focused on what can go wrong, consciously ask yourself, “What’s the worst-case scenario?”. When you objectively and logically review what you fear as the worst case may, in fact, not even be that bad!
A few months ago, I was working with a client on this very topic. I used the example of what if a sinkhole developed right now, and this whole building went down. What’s the worst case? The client stated that the worst thing that could happen is that he dies. I asked why that’s the worst that could happen to him? Of course, he mentioned family, kids, friends, etc., but that’s not the worst case for him; it’s the worst case for them! If he dies, he’s dead, there are no more worries or concerns for him. So the worst case might be that he survives and is scared. Yes, being scared is normal. What do you do next? You try to climb out; you either succeed at it or rescuers finally get you out. Regardless, the odds of being trapped in the hole, alive, with no one coming to save us, would be rare. And if you say, “but what about the zombie apocalypse”? Well, in that scenario, I would rather be hidden in the hole. My point being, worrying about a future sinkhole will cause anxiety. Still, understanding that even the worst-case scenario isn’t that bad allows us to reduce our worry about an impending sinkhole.
- Plan for the future with a reasonable expectation: Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. I’m not saying that to live in the present means, we forego any future planning. Not at all! First, concerning the scenario for which you are planning, determine those areas of the situation for which you do and don’t have control over. Those areas you have no control over you need to ignore. But, those areas you do have control over, you need to make plans. Understand that the decisions you make today will impact your future plans. And, situations and events out of your control will change your future plans. This is why I say that we need to have reasonable expectations. We can make the best plans in the world, but keep in the back of your mind that they may not come true. And that’s alright. Why? The opportunities which may open up for you instead may be better than what you wanted. In the future, other opportunities may exist which don’t exist today, and there’s no way of knowing that until we live in the future’s present moment. So, make your goals, plan for your future, but keep an open mind to what that future may actually reveal.
Let this thought comfort you: today was yesterday’s future for which you worried. Was it as bad as you thought? Tomorrow is today’s future. What decisions and plans can you make today to help you in the future of tomorrow?
The holiday blues are a real phenomenon, with half of us feeling some stress and fatigue if not mild depression. The holiday blues are felt by people as a result of the holiday season. Yet, some people are entering the holiday season already feeling stressed, anxious, sad, grieving, depressed, etc. How do I enjoy the holidays while helping people I know to cope with their holiday blues?
“If one were to devise an experimental set of circumstances which would test the integrity of an individual’s mood control, one would invent the year-end holiday season.” Jonathan Himmelhoch, Psychiatrist, Western Psychiatric Institute, and Clinic
The holiday blues are real, and according to at least one study, about half of us experience the holiday blues (the survey reached 786 adults, 18 years or older Fall of 2006). But some people suffer the holiday blues because they entered the holiday season already feeling sad, depressed, anxious, etc. The seemingly joyous time of the year enhances their depression and anxiety.
I don’t think there is any other time of the year, which evokes such strong emotions as does this time of the year. For some of us, we are excited, joyous, filled with wonder and anticipation! We visit family and friends, host parties and gatherings, spreading joy everywhere we go! But yet some of us feel quite the opposite this time of the year. I think of those who recently lost a loved one, suffering from physical or mental health issues, separated from loved ones, and even estranged from the family. There are those whose past experience of the holidays wasn’t pleasant, and those who feel trapped in life situations.
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” While these song lyrics may be accurate for some, they’re not necessarily right for everyone. I’m not writing this to bring down the mood, but what I am saying is that we need to be mindful of people around us who may be suffering while we celebrate. Some of my current clients are dreading these next few weeks, while other clients are looking forward to a new beginning!
Regardless of how we may feel about the holidays themselves, this time of the year finds many of us feeling the burden for perfection. As joyous as we may be, the expectations for a “Rockwell Christmas” haunt the best of us. While we still have our day-to-day tasks to complete, we must also decorate, buy gifts, and attend social functions. These expectations, especially if we feel obligated, can cause stress and anxiety even in those who enjoy this time of the year. Now imagine the stress and anxiety felt by those who are merely trying to cope with life, let alone the added expectation of the season.
This time of the year, we tend to focus more of our attention on helping others and on giving back. Therefore, what can we do to either help or give to someone who is suffering during this holiday season?
- Create an awareness within yourself and your children that not everyone feels joyous this time of the year. This awareness is not meant to place a burden on us, but as a recognition for the reality of others.
- Create an environment where all people feel open to sharing their feelings honestly. While attending or planning, parties and gatherings don’t encourage everyone to participate, be respectful of those who are having a difficult time participating. Try to plan activities that would allow a person to participate in the degree in which they feel comfortable.
- Be mindful that your expectations of what makes up a holiday celebration may not be the expectations of others. Allow yourself the flexibility to be open to the traditions of others as well as to how others may be feeling. For example, if you are organizing the family dinner, take into account any family members who have had a challenging year. Allow them space or the time to speak, or not speak, if they wish. Be aware that their showing up may have been a difficult task in and of itself.
- If you know someone struggling to cope with a mental illness, or emotionally struggling, be a supportive friend. Allow time in your holiday schedule to be present to them, even if words aren’t spoken. Never underestimate the positive effect and healing quality of presence. If possible and appropriate, encourage them to join you at small gatherings and surround them with people who have their best interests at heart. Isolation, especially during the holidays, is not healthy.
- Encourage them to do activities focused on taking care of themselves and their emotional health, regardless of the expectations placed upon them by themselves or others. Help them to understand that It doesn’t make you a selfish person when you prioritize yourself, it is actually essential toward your well-being.
- Take time from the busyness of this season to be an active listener to those who wish to share their feelings. Encouraging and allowing others to share how they feel may be the most helpful thing you can do for them. If they are reluctant to share, lovingly help them by letting them know that you will listen without judgment regardless of what they wish to talk about and share.
During this holiday season, as many of us join together with our families and friends, let’s be grateful and joyous in our traditions and fellowship. But let’s not forget those who are emotionally suffering at this time of the year. Being respectful, understanding, and lovingly present is the best holiday gift a person can receive.
Confidence is not something we’re born with, it’s something we learn as we mature. My personal story is one of a shy boy transformed into a confident man. How did I do it? How can you do it? Let’s talk about how I eventually learned to embrace my confidence.
“Confidence isn’t walking into a room with your nose in the air, thinking you are better than everyone else; it’s walking into a room and not having to compare yourself to anyone in the first place.” -Anonymous
The other day I was asked, “Have you always had this confidence?” I was somewhat taken aback by the question as I don’t typically think of myself as having confidence. My current life activities consist of family, life coaching, writing, teaching at a university and college, hosting a podcast, giving lectures, and speaking at conferences. I keep myself active, but I enjoy all that I do. Is my enjoyment in what I do the confidence people see in me?
Confidence is defined as a feeling of trust in one’s abilities and talents. Yet, this definition presupposes that I have an awareness of my skills and talents. I feel this is the reason why many people lack confidence; they don’t recognize their own abilities and, therefore, wrongly assume they are unable or incapable of performing a task. Pull the word, confidence, apart, and you’ll find the Latin words of “con” and “fide.” When translated, we get “with trust/faith.”
Trusting in oneself, which is what confidence describes, means I have to believe in myself and my message. What message, you ask. Our beliefs, morals, and values are the messages we send to others. Your level of trust in yourself with your message equates to your level of confidence. How much do you believe about yourself to be true? Is the message you’re sending different from your belief about self?
Trusting in oneself, or, having confidence, also involves a sense and personal understnading of one’s conviction. How strongly you believe in yourself and your message is this conviction. A firm conviction, coupled with a desire to spread your message, is the confidence for which many desire.
Conviction, historically, evolves from the word for “opinion.” Our conviction is our opinion on self. The Latin parts of the word are again “con,” or with, and “vicere,” meaning to win or conquer. Since “con” is part of this word, then with what do we win or conquer? The word literally means “to win with.”
The answer, as I see it, is confidence. We win with confidence. We have beliefs about ourselves and the world around us, our convictions. These convictions, or beliefs, are what we trust in our confidence. Therefore, to “win,” we need a conviction and the confidence to make it happen.
While growing up, I was extremely shy and unaware of my abilities and talents. This lack of self-awareness, coupled with my shyness, reinforced in me a belief that I wasn’t capable of much in the way of outward achievement. As a child, and even though my early adulthood, I enjoyed the solitary pursuits of reading, studying, and writing. Sure, I had friends with whom I enjoyed doing things, but my friends were few and not among what was known as the” in-crowd.” For me and my shyness, they were “safe.”
A lack of confidence is typically coupled with a person’s self-esteem or sense of self-worth. In my experience, though, that assumption wasn’t right. Although I lacked insight into my gifts and talents, I did feel positive about myself. I enjoyed my hobbies and the people I chose to be close to; ultimately, life was good. My sense of self-worth was high, while at the same time, my confidence was low.
How can this be? In my early life, it meant that I did well in school, for when I was given a task of importance to complete or asked to give a speech, my mind would immediately jump to the thought “Me?! I don’t have the skill to do this? There have to be people better at this than me!” At the time, I failed to realize that I was asked because someone else saw the talent and ability in me. I was unable to take into account the perspective of the asker because I failed to recognize my own confidence. If I couldn’t see it in myself, I was never going to accept that someone else saw what I could not.
So, what changed in me, given my history of lack of confidence and shyness, that now I can speak to large crowds, teach university classes, and train groups of peers? There’s no one event, moment, or “aha experience,” which made all the difference. For me, it was a progressive shift, and practicing meditation, where I became more self-aware of my giftedness as well as my weaknesses. It’s in accepting both aspects of oneself that lead to one’s sense of confidence.
Here are some reflections I have learned in my adult years, which have impacted my ability to have conviction and confidence:
- I’m not responsible for another’s happiness. I am responsible for my feelings and my actions toward others. This helps my confidence in that I don’t seek nor need the approval of others to know that I am good at what I do. The constructive opinions of family and close friends I respect but needing to be liked by everyone is no longer a goal of mine.
- Not knowing is ok. Early in my career, I stifled myself as I felt that if I didn’t know everything, there was to know in my field than I was a fraud. I now recognize how wrong I was. Still, it was in me eventually realizing that even the “experts” in my field didn’t know everything for me to gain confidence in my own knowledge and experience of my field. What I don’t know, I will learn from others and so continue to grow.
- I became empowered in my confidence every time I stepped out of my comfort zone only to realize that I did well. The more times I gave something a try and ended with positive results, the more I became confident in my abilities. Yes, those times when it didn’t go well seemed to set me back more than the positive times moved me forward, but regardless, I kept on keeping on. I’m not perfect when it comes to public speaking or teaching, etc., but I do my best, and more times than not, there is positive feedback from the audience. Had I not moved out of my comfort zone, my self-confidence would still be quite low.
- As I mentioned above, confidence is not to be equated with always being right or knowing everything. Confidence grows from an understanding of who you are, the positives and negatives. We all have growth opportunities, so don’t let the fact that you are not “perfect” stop you from feeling confident. Feel confident knowing that you are both talented and flawed, perfect in some aspects yet need to grow in others.
- Take time for yourself. Self-care is vitally important to physical and mental health. Spending time nurturing yourself and meditating provides you the opportunity to know yourself better. In this self-knowledge, you will find your confidence and your growth opportunities. Work on both!
In my continuing journey of confidence, I realize that I don’t need to be perfect in all knowledge or skill. Still, I do need to be self-reflective with a willingness to grow. Take the time to learn about yourself, then step out of your comfort zone and give it a try! If it works well, fantastic, do it again! If it doesn’t work well, excellent, learn from it, then do it again!
To overcome fear, one needs to believe they will be happy on the other side, and that getting to the other side of fear is possible. Knowing and believing are two very different attitudes. In this article, I use my own childhood fear as an example throughout. Keep in mind, we need fear to live, so be careful in what fear you try to overcome.
As a young child, I had many fears, as I’m sure most children experience. For me, my most significant event to overcome fear was the weather, specifically thunderstorms. I was convinced that every storm would spawn a tornado which would ultimately find and pulverize my house, with me in it! Now, please know that I did not grow up in tornado alley or in a tornado prone area. Yes, we experienced the random water spout and once a decade, or so a tornado would develop. The tornadoes were far enough from my house not to see the funnel of destruction but close enough that the local newspaper printed articles about the twister.
I have no idea of the origin of my fear, but I knew exactly how to overcome fear in this situation. To overcome fear is not easy, primarily when our fear is rooted in reality. In my childhood situation, the fact was that tornadoes did happen in my area, do spawn from thunderstorms, and are capable of demolishing houses. Therefore, to that extent of reality, my fear was justified.
Yet there’s another perspective, or reality, to be examined if we want to overcome fear. In my case, reality also demonstrated that a tornado never formed in my neighborhood, at the time I had never seen a tornado, and in my 18 years growing up in my childhood home, it was never demolished by a tornado (actually that home still stands to this day). So yes, there was a reason for my fear, but also yes, my childhood fear was unfounded.
Fear is powerful, convincing us to either flee or fight against a known or unknown danger waiting to harm us. The threat, for our first ancestors, was primarily focused on physical survival issues, life, and death situations. Today our fears tend to be focused on emotional survival issues. Emotional survival is as essential to our overall survival as is physical survival. Fear is instinctual as a means to protect us in situations where protection is needed so that we survive and reach the other side of that which was threatening.
Since fear serves to protect us from both physical and emotional harm, guiding us along a path of survival, why then even talk about how to overcome fear? Shouldn’t we embrace fear as our protector? Fear is actually not our problem, as such, I should change the title of this article. The problem we have is how we cope with our fear. The initial reaction to either flee or fight is helpful, but becoming stuck in either mode is detrimental to moving forward. It’s so much easier to flee or fight when the situation is physical. Yet when the threat is emotional, fleeing or fighting is more difficult to notice, and so we become stuck.
As a child, my response to thunderstorms was to hide under my bed or to run into the basement. The latter is the preferred location if there actually were a tornado present, yet for me, it was an escape, a fleeing, to where I felt safe. My becoming stuck was not fleeing to the basement, but doing so, when there was no need to do so. I would leave friends, activities, family, etc. to flee to the imagined safety of the basement. Fleeing when it leads to safety is healthy and wise; fleeing solely out of fear is unhealthy and being stuck.
What have I learned from my childhood into adulthood on how to overcome fear?
- Reflect: When you feel afraid, take action to protect yourself. After you’ve acted, reflect on yourself and the situation to determine if your response to your fear is healthy or not, using the example I gave above.
- Act: Take action, not to overcome fear, but to overcome your unhealthy response to fear. As I grew older, and while hiding in the basement, I happened upon a very old book set somewhat hidden under my Dad’s tool bench. As I uncovered the books, I noticed that one of the books was about the weather, explaining the forces and science behind how the weather works and safety tips. My action was in learning about that which I feared, causing me to have a respectful fear of Mother Nature. I now know when seeking shelter and being afraid is necessary and when it’s not. As an adult, I now spend free time chasing storms. I enjoy sitting on my deck to watch the beauty of the lightning show, and I’ve even been in storms which spawned tornadoes that I was able to see. Some of these experiences produced no fear in me while others produced much fear, and healthily, I respected the power of nature and took shelter.
- Fight: Fight within yourself to believe that you can overcome your fear. When I first started to learn about the weather I “knew” I could handle my fear, yet it took years of maturing and study to “believe” that I could overcome fear and respond healthily. Start with “knowing” but continue to fight and work until you get to “believing” in yourself.
- Flee: It’s important not to think of fleeing with a negative connotation. Fleeing from a harmful situation is wise for survival and for providing time to create a plan of action. In modern life, physically fleeing, or leaving a person or condition may be the healthiest action to take for your own emotional well-being. Similarily, emotional fleeing from a situation, controlled and not permanent, can have the same healthy effect as does physical fleeing. Keep in mind that healthy or unhealthy flight is dependant upon your motivation and the reality of the threat. An emotionally abusive relationship might require a person to flee physically. Yet a person who simply doesn’t like a situation, their fleeing may be an unhealthy escape. Sometimes circumstances may be able to be fixed if you stay and fight.
Yes, we need fear to live and survive, but how we respond to our fear is what makes the difference in our emotional health. If you want to live a happy and peaceful life, practice believing in yourself that you can overcome fear by the way you cope with your fear.