“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.
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.”
Okay, 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…
- Make a commitment to yourself that this holiday season will bring even a smidge of personal change and growth.
- Ponder the dynamics of relating as they apply to your holiday season participation. What experiences/events may generate suffering?
- Now that you’ve connected some dots, endeavor to accept suffering as a manifestation of how your mind rolls, and turn to creative management.
- What experience/events are you likely to avoid? After identification, connect the relating dots.
- Even if it’s only for a short period of time, commit to participating in just one traditionally avoided experience/event.
- Decide that you’re going to call the shots during your (and it is yours) holiday season.
- Take on those “forced” commitments in small doses.
- Reach-out to even just one fellow human-being, in lieu of the injustice of self-isolation.
- Find at least one reason to be thankful.
- 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?
brain image credit thesavoia.com