‘Tis the season to be jolly! A time of ‘peace on Earth and good will to all men’. The irony is lost on no one.
We’re thrown into a marathon of booze-fuelled family gatherings, where young and old, left and right, past and present collide and hospitality quickly turns into hostility.
And then the Facebook posts. The perfect family Christmas everyone else seems to be having. The revelations that 99% of your friends had Christmas boxed off before you’d even opened the first window on your advent calendar. The party of the century that you can’t make, or worse, weren’t even invited to.
As the snowball of festive preparations gathers momentum and we hurtle towards the big day with reckless abandon, we get swept up in the avalanche of expectation that we put on others and ourselves. The pressure to be all things to all people can become overwhelming. It’s unrealistic and unhelpful and more often than not, the people we care about the most bare the brunt of our frustrations.
Our brains are hard wired to look for danger and threats. It’s our default mode from a time long past, when we had to stay alert for marauding mammoths and sabre tooth tigers. But existing in this state of heightened awareness can lead us to misinterpret ‘threats’ as greater than they really are. Past experiences should create caution, but they needn’t dictate the present or the future. When Great Aunt Maud’s tongue loosens after a few too many Crème De Menthes, her barbed blatherings on your career/marital status/parental capabilities/fluctuating waistline don’t justify a fight or flight response. What is required, is our own self-awareness and some effective state management.
The concept of ‘neuroplasticity’ tells us that we can break old mental habits and create new, more flexible ways of thinking. By practicing self-awareness, we can re-wire our brains by consciously choosing how we think and react to certain situations. By stretching ourselves to think differently, we can experience our world differently.
The practice of self-awareness, mindfulness, being ‘present’ and non-judgmental with ourselves, is increasingly advocated by medical professionals in preference to anti-depressants.
So here are some mindful tips to help you sail through this holiday season with ease:
- Focus on a positive outcome – mental preparation can center the mind on what you want and stop you wasting emotional energy on worst-case scenarios.
- Be honest with yourself – listen to your internal dialogue. Are the negative feelings based on reality or your interpretation of it? Is your thinking distorted? How can you reframe the situation?
- Be present – don’t let past experience dictate your present or future. Just for today, assume best intentions and give the benefit of the doubt. You will find evidence to support what you’re looking for, so look for the best.
- Walk in their shoes – if you can imagine their reality, how might you respond in a different way?
- Listen and acknowledge – as the French philosopher Simone Weil said, ‘attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity’. If tension surfaces, practice listening to hear rather than listening to respond. Giving your full attention, your ‘presence’ with unconditional positive regard, builds trust and rapport.
Here at Bolt, the principle of truly listening with positive intent and being aware what our inner critic is telling us, resonates strongly. We try to practice what we preach when it comes to managing our own triggers.
But we all have a Great Aunt Maude. She’ll most certainly have our presence, but she’ll only be getting soap and socks this Christmas.