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Linda Arnold: ’Tis the season to be gentle (with yourself)

December 16, 2018

Just on the off chance your holidays are not totally Norman Rockwell-esque, take a look at the following checklist.

Right now I’m feeling:

• Jolly

• Frenzied

• Sad

• Lonely

• Overwhelmed

• All of the above

As a result, I’ve been

• Kicking my system into overdrive

• Giving up sleep for the month of December

• Beating myself up for not getting everything done

• Unleashing my stress on those around me

• Hitting the eggnog more heavily

If you checked more than one of these categories, you’re not alone. It’s normal to have all kinds of conflicting feelings this time of year ­— ’tis the season.

In case you were wondering, none of us can sustain that level of heartfelt awe in the Folgers coffee commercials or seasonal Hallmark movies!

Emotional triggers

The holidays also trigger a lot of memories — happy and sad. Many of you are adjusting to this season without loved ones, and that can be particularly tough.

It may seem that everyone around you is jolly, while you’re feeling the blues.

Just remember to be gentle with yourself. Put your own oxygen mask on first. And take a time out from the hustle and bustle to go within. Look for ways to nurture your soul and your spirit.

In the meantime, here a few of these tips gleaned from personal experience as well as the Mayo Clinic and Psych Central mental health network.

Pushing your buttons

For those of you getting together with extended family, write down/rehearse a plan of action to cope with any ongoing emotions that may come up.

Family systems tend to repeat patterns of behavior, often in an unconscious manner. Rather than allowing someone to push your buttons, think of some ways to defuse the situation to help you stay true to your own boundaries. And resist the urge to push any other buttons!

Changing the patterns

Sometimes we get so ingrained in situations it’s hard to see how things could change. And just the anticipation of coming events can be enough to throw us into a tailspin.

If you truly want to change patterns about holiday meal preparations and cleanup sessions, start now to plant the seeds. Make alternative suggestions — rotate the clean up crews, for example. I did this a couple of years ago — and it worked!

Over time, lots of resentment can be built up when the same family members are expected to cook, clear the table and do the dishes — while others retire to the family room to relax. If this is striking a nerve, take time to think through an alternative plan and communicate it in advance in the best way for your family members to understand — a phone call, an email, etc.

You could even fashion a suggested schedule that has a lineup of particular families — or group the tasks by age. As you’re preparing the meal and sitting down to eat, you could issue a gentle reminder: “Let us give thanks to the Smith gang for tonight’s cleanup.” Or, “thanks to our cleanup crew of teenagers tonight.”

Making your own decisions about participating

At times it’s easier to go through the motions to keep the traditions — and the peace. If you find this is wearing thin on your sanity, though, you could opt out of certain activities — or lessen your involvement. Just because “it’s always been done this way,” doesn’t mean it has to continue.

This goes for decorating, baking, sending out holiday cards, and just about any other activity where it’s just assumed you’ll be there and come through for everyone. Ben Franklin had it right: “Everything in moderation.” Or, as one of my friends says, “lower your standards.”

It may not be as hard as you think. Most of the time we tend to overexplain. Here are a couple of my favorite phrases to try out:

“Here’s an option I’d like to try this year.”

“Let’s look at a different schedule.”

Stuffing the turkey, not your feelings

It’s perfectly natural to feel a roller coaster of emotions at this heightened time of reflection. If you have strong feelings of nostalgia or sadness, reach out to someone you trust to talk about your feelings. And don’t take rudeness or irritability too personally. Most folks are juggling more than usual this time of year.

Practicing random acts of kindness

Giving is receiving. There’s nothing like helping someone else out — especially during this season — that can help you take your mind off your own problems. Do a little favor for an elderly neighbor.

Take time to call a friend you haven’t spoken with for awhile. At the toll booth pay for the car behind you. Or pay ahead at the fast food drive-thru window. Ask them to apply a dollar to the order of the car behind you. Pop some change into an expired parking meter.

You might be saying, “But they’ll never know who helped them out.” That’s precisely the point. It’s not about getting credit. It’s about the pure intention of giving.

Several years ago I was thinking of purchasing a fuzzy white teddy bear in a store. I decided to get it. And, on the way out, I overhead a clerk talking about how she wanted to get that same bear for her daughter, but didn’t feel like she could spend the money at that time. Something deep inside me urged me to turn around and go back into the store.

I ended up purchasing another teddy bear and asked the cashier in that department to take it over to the other employee and tell her it was from Santa. I hid behind some store dividers to see her expression — and left the store with such a warm feeling.

She never knew the gift was from me. And it didn’t matter. I just knew I was doing a little something to put a smile on her face and to brighten her daughter’s holidays. To this day, I never pick up that fuzzy teddy bear in our spare bedroom, any time of the year, without recalling that incident. And that’s priceless!

©2018 Linda Arnold Live Life Fully, all rights reserved. Linda Arnold, M.A., M.B.A., is a syndicated columnist, psychological counselor and Founder of a multistate marketing company. Reader comments are welcome at linda@lindaarnold.org. For information on her books, go to www.lindaarnold.org.

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