Memories and Reactions; Expectations and Reality; Compassion
In spite of the tinsel, jolly carols and bright lights, the holidays can be a time of despair. Loneliness and loss can be felt more deeply, financial struggle intensified and poor mental and physical health can be particularly painful.
Our minds slip back to holiday memories. Happy or sad past moments superimpose our present reality and we begin to feel how we did way back then. A casual careless comment made a year ago that triggered feelings of hurt, anger or wanting the floor to open up, invades a quiet moment as we’re watching the sun set. Our present peace is interrupted by the memory, and related feelings unwittingly activate the stress response.
Our whole being is ready to fight, flee or freeze – because of a memory!
On the other hand, we can choose to energize our overall sense of wellbeing by remembering kindness and feelings of love and by appreciating simple things. But that requires conscious effort and a degree of thought control (tips below).
Happiness is a choice. And the holidays is a crucial time to remember this, whether we’re alone, with two, ten or twenty people. Our feelings affect our overall wellbeing and radiate from us influencing others, so let those feelings be kind, loving and happy.
If other folks are anxious, have drunk too much, are nervous and say things they most likely didn’t mean or won’t remember, we can choose Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s habit of selective hearing (and remembering). A skill that she says has served her well over the years. I’m working on it!
Here are guidelines that can be helpful during the holidays:
Memories and Reactions
• Select up to three positive memories of past holidays. These can be a journey going to Grandma’s, a meal, a kind word, a good feeling, something natural and lovely, a devoted pet.
• Imagine yourself in/re-experiencing those memories. For example: taking a walk; when someone said something kind; when you helped with preparations as a child. Really see, hear, feel the experiences. If this seems ridiculous or effortful, remember that you are simply retraining your mind to automatically create positive memories/reactions instead of negative ones.
• Whenever old, uncomfortable memories and feelings come up, immediately switch your attention to one of your feel-good memories.
• Sometimes it’s helpful to remember that “only hurt people hurt people”.
Expectations and Reality
• Let go of expectations of perfection; accept reality (it’s often much more fun!)
• Breathe, be flexible and go with the flow.
• If necessary, ahead of time prepare moments to escape, get centered and feel calm (sometimes just knowing you can escape is enough and you may not need to follow through!).
• Above all, be kind to yourself.
• Ask yourself: if love was all there is, how would I feel, think and be now?
• When reviewing the holiday, select memories carefully. Choose the good ones.
• We can’t fix everyone and everything, but we can choose to be compassionate.
• Remember hatred and resentment corrodes and love heals.
• Choose to love.