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‘Tis(n’t) the Season to Be Jolly? | 10 Holiday Season Challenge Points with a Side of Psychobabble


“Dang, here we go – it’s the holiday season. I just hate it, though deep in my heart I don’t want to. Happiness? Goodwill? Spirit of giving? Guess I’ll opt for stress, anxiety symptoms, depression, and anger management. Why does it have to be this way?!”

Fact is, though, we are where we are on the calendar, and we gotta’ do what it takes to endure. But, you know, I wonder if we can surpass the enduring of it all and effect a measure of change and growth.

Ho-Ho-Ho. That’s coming from our Santa in the pic! Poor guy had to turn to his holiday buddies for help. But I suspect he isn’t alone, ’cause it seems to be going around – year after year.

Well, Thanksgiving Day is close. And that means we’re entering the holiday season danger-zone. Millions will face memories of loved-ones and times long gone, parties, shoulder-to-shoulder shopping, depression, anxiety, drinking and drugging, avoidance, bitter isolation and loneliness, and more.


No arguments here – this can be one brutal time of the year. Fact is, though, we are where we are on the calendar, and we gotta’ do what it takes to endure. But, you know, I wonder if we can surpass the enduring of it all and effect a measure of change and growth. I mean, it’s possible, right?

Relating and Avoidance | Just the Way Our Minds Roll

Before we review our challenge points, let’s dig-in to that side of psychobabble. I think it’ll help us understand why the holiday season can be so painful. My primary source, by the way, is a great workbook – Get Out of Your Mind & Into Your Life | The New Acceptance & Commitment Therapy by Steven C. Hayes, PhD with Spencer Smith. Used it a bunch in my post, Acceptance | The Missing Piece to the Healing Puzzle.

According to something known as Relational Frame Theory (psychobabble warning), the foundation of our language and higher cognition is “relating” – our ability to link things together. And these relational networks – relational frames – govern our behavior. So why would our minds be so designed? Well, it allows us to learn in the absence of direct experience, which provides a huge survival advantage.

“Little more clarity here, William.”

Brain in ColorOkay, our minds are designed to arbitrarily relate objects in our environment, thoughts, feelings, behavioral predispositions, actions, etc. to other objects in our environment, thoughts, feelings, behavioral predispositions, actions, etc. – in any possible way. And that programming means we don’t have to suffer the consequences of putting our hand in boiling water to know it isn’t a happening thing to do. Can you see the survival advantage?

Thing is, though – as much as this relating biz allows us to consciously analyze our environment, it has a major drawback. It creates suffering.

How? You know that family holiday soiree you avoid because of the emotional pain? Maybe you’re missing-out on something special because you link – relate – it to parties of years ago attended by your now deceased mother.

Bottom-line is, as much suffering as this generates, our minds are working within their design. In fact, they can’t help it. So it’s up to us to find creative – acceptance-based – management techniques.

Okay, one more forkful. Given the soiree scenario, is it difficult to understand why many of us turn to experiential avoidance? Simply, it’s the process of trying to avoid our own experiences (thoughts, feelings, memories, body sensations, behavioral predispositions), even when doing so causes long-term behavioral problems.

10 Holiday Season Challenge Points

As you approach the coming five weeks, I’d like you to consider the following…

  1. Make a commitment to yourself that this holiday season will bring even a smidge of personal change and growth.
  2. Ponder the dynamics of relating as they apply to your holiday season participation. What experiences/events may generate suffering?
  3. Now that you’ve connected some dots, endeavor to accept suffering as a manifestation of how your mind rolls, and turn to creative management.
  4. What experience/events are you likely to avoid? After identification, connect the relating dots.
  5. Even if it’s only for a short period of time, commit to participating in just one traditionally avoided experience/event.
  6. Decide that you’re going to call the shots during your (and it is yours) holiday season.
  7. Take on those “forced” commitments in small doses.
  8. Reach-out to even just one fellow human-being, in lieu of the injustice of self-isolation.
  9. Find at least one reason to be thankful.
  10. Declare the holiday season a special time – annually – during which you’ll focus upon discovering and furthering life-purpose.

We’ll Leave It at That

The holiday season is a matter of endurance for millions. And so often a sense of happiness and fulfillment is trumped by stress, anxiety symptoms, depression, and buckets of anger management techniques.

But you know it doesn’t have to be that way, right? So are you ready to emerge, even to some small degree challenging yourself to turn things around this year? And maybe you can even come to our Santa’s emotional rescue.

Give it some thought, k?

Listen, I’m always available for consultation, so don’t hesitate to get in touch. And if you decide it’s time for the coaching | mentoring thing, let’s put something together.

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  • I appreciate this reminder Bill. It is a challenging time for some. Loneliness as well as “depression, anxiety, drinking and drugging” play a role in the anxiety and stress of the holiday season. I’ve gone through some changes in my life where I needed to reinvent my holiday season. I found it helpful to make new traditions, as I let go of how it used to be. Embracing the joy of the holidays by keeping it simple helped me through the years. Doing something for someone less fortunate can lift your spirits as well.

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and thank you for that you do to spread awareness!

    • Cathy, Cathy, Cathy. Thank you for visiting on Thanksgiving Day – and contributing. Very challenging times for so many right about now. “…reinvent my holiday season.” I like that a lot. And then on to embracing by keeping it simple – and reaching-out to others.

      You have a sweet Thanksgiving, as well, Cathy…


  • So true, Bill… “the holiday season is a matter of endurance for millions.” I love your list of challenge points – especially #7 – so important to give oneself permission not to do it all or do it because they “should.” Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

    • Hiya, Lisa! Good of you to stop-on-by and participate. Sure is the endurance factor this time of the year, huh. At least for lots of folk. Man, we gotta’ take it slow and easy or we end up with the same old, same old. And I really want readers to turn things around for the much better this year. T’Day was just fine on this side of the fence, and I hope yours was, as well…


  • David Cooke

    Now this is a holiday list I can dig into. Great pointers and wonderful reminder not to get lost in the insanity of the season. Thanks.

    • Then it’s a good list, David. Right? And I think it’s so important to come to understand how our minds work relationally. Really explains a lot, which is so helpful when we try to understand why we feel so miserable. Then we can transition from fix-its to management. Huge and positive move.

      Glad you stopped-by, and thank you…


  • npeden

    Ok, my holiday was like a scene out of a bad comedy movie. The best part was when we went around the table and each gave a personal thanks.

    The only one I am currently willing to accept is no. 6 “Decide that you’re going to call the shots during your (and it is yours) holiday season.” I have already contacted one friend asking her what she is doing for Christmas day. My past experience of doing this, reaching out has not worked so I have an “idea” that this won’t either. But I will hold some hope.

    My Christian family is leaving town, going to family that celebrate and maintain some sanity. My Jewish family will not be celebrating.

    Sorry, not putting up my usual lights this time. I do have a bay leaf wreath on my door made locally but even that is wilting. I still say, bah, humbug.

    I need a creative solution for this time of year. Wish I was energetic enough to leave town and join some kind of spiritual group in celebrating. That would have meaning for me.

    My Zen group does a New Year’s Eve burning bowl but it is very late at night. A nearby church does one around 7 pm. That might be a possibility but that still doesn’t take care of that other day of family engagement called Christmas.

    So for now, number 6 is my only change for the moment. Thanks for the check list, Bill.

    Hey and I do understand that actually, based on my childhood then my forty year marriage that these holidays do make me suffer with a great deal of grief.

    • Well, Nancy, if you can pull-off #6 you’re well on your way. As you reach-out, don’t take it personally if no one wants to play. It isn’t you – sometimes folks have other things to do. And you know, maybe it isn’t a matter of not having the energy to head out of town for that spiritual celebration. Could be more that you haven’t found the right group. Hey, that “burning bowl” sounds good. Who brings the stash? LOL

      Just do your best, Nancy. Someone I believe it’ll be more than sufficient…


      • npeden

        The “stash” is all the things you want to let go over and I have a bundle of those…