December 01 2016
Happiness

Enjoy the Christmas Good, Survive the Bad

ChristmasEven though I am usually a bit of an emotional wreck, and Christmastime is an emotional minefield, it’s still my favorite time of the year.  Everything about it is in my wheelhouse.  Old-timey traditions, romantic street-scapes, rustic cozy decorations, Christmas music, out-of-their-mind-happy children (and the nuts, garish displays created for them by the Dyker Heights faithful), a focus on charity and kindness, family gatherings, winter, snow – all of it.  That is the beautiful, life-affirming side of the holidays.  But there is, of course… the other side.  And it can be less nice.

This is the time of year where things that we have been trying to hold together begin to unravel: our budget, our willpower, our weight, our time-management abilities, our very sanity.

Like clockwork I’m seeing the low-grade anxiety of December pop up all over.  I was reading a great post on The John & Jane Doe Guide to Money & Investing the other day on this topic.  Emily had that feeling that we all have sometimes.  That she was failing, that her strategies were not cutting it.  I could relate to everything she said.  Life is a constant struggle, especially to anyone who is thoughtful enough to want to take control and make it as fulfilling as it can be.  We can take comfort in knowing that no one is alone in feeling this way.

On a basic level, there is The Great Overwhelm… the busyness, the spending, the indulging, the eating, the drinking, the not exercising.  Getting a little deeper, Christmas is famously famous for taking already difficult emotions and turning them into full-blown depression.  Few are immune to the pitfalls:

The indulging

After being disciplined with money all year, I spent a whole bunch of it Thanksgiving weekend.  The Christmas gifts were all good.  But I bought other stuff too.  I’ve been worried about my first debt-free Christmas because I have a big problem when spending floodgates are breached.  Once they are open, my self control takes a hit.  Emily mentions this in her blog post as well.  It is a scientifically proven fact of human existence.  Studies have shown that once we make a small transgression, the “what the hell” reflex goes into effect and we just go all the way.  That’s me with spending.

Time spiraling out of control

Everyone is always waiting for that “less busy” time to roll around, when we will become perfect models of productivity and efficiency.  We will work out, and spend quality time with the children, take long walks in nature, tackle those chores around the house and do tons of kick-ass writing for our awesome blog.  Just not now.

The heavy emotions

Maybe the hardest part is that Christmas is an emotional danger zone.  That can mean melancholy feelings associated with watching children outgrow their childhood.  Or deep kernels of sadness hidden inside Christmas memories of people who have gone from the world.  There’s that feeling of missing your own childhood, missing your parents as their younger, stronger selves. Or wanting Christmas to be perfect and then being disappointed when you are fighting with your family, or for whatever reason the warm feeling you remember is not the feeling you feel.  And I know I am not the only one whose optimistic core has been somewhat shattered by the direction our country has taken.

These are real challenges.  I can’t make them go away, but here are some small ideas to think about:

Don’t fall victim to the “what the hell” effect. 

Be aware of it and tell yourself that stemming the flow is itself a win. I spent a bunch of money, but I paid for it with my savings, and when I got paid again, I went back to my budget, instead of going down an even worse road of credit card shopping.  Cutting your losses is a victory – take it, gratefully.

Postpone.

Indulging in food is no joke this time of year. I’m Italian and there is no end to the food orgy that awaits me.  But just as the “what the hell” effect is scientifically programmed into us, so are other reflexes that can be used to our advantage.  It’s easier than trying to overcome our nature.  There’s a study showing that people tend to do better resisting temptation when they postpone, rather than just deny themselves.

So instead of telling yourself that you cannot have the peppermint bark, tell yourself that you can have it later.  Don’t underestimate the power of tricking your own wiring.  It is a lot easier than calling upon willpower, which we are, again, scientifically proven to have in limited supply.  I feel like this works with shopping.  When I tell myself that I will buy something later, often I don’t still want it when later comes.

More mind tricks…

Everyone wants to spend more time enjoying the holiday season and less time getting caught in its hamster wheel.  I can easily start shopping online, go down a rabbit hole, and the next thing I know an hour has passed.  An hour I will never get back.  These habits are hard to break when websites are designed to bypass our willpower and connect directly with our need for distraction.  If you do nothing else this season but check yourself when you get sucked into online black holes, that will have been a huge accomplishment.

My little mind trick is to check in with my brain and ask myself “What am I doing?”  The phrase is meaningless, but it is my mental shorthand for acknowledging that I am wasting my time with whatever I’m looking at online.  Once I say it in my head, I find myself motivated to disconnect.  For whatever reason, my brain successfully connected that thought with that action.  Asking “What am I doing?” is a surprisingly easy habit to cultivate.  It can be a meaningful small step in the face of unrelenting attention hijacking coming at you from every angle.

Don’t panic.

An Australian blogger that I really love has an amazing, fresh and thoughtful post about that feeling of self-doubt that can lead to the desire to just burn everything down. She was talking about her work and creative process and I really related it to the struggles associated with building my blog, which is very satisfying, yet can also be discouraging. Her advice was so spot on, especially for bloggers.  It is a very skillfully drawn “don’t panic” message that resonates with crystal clarity.

Difficult emotions.

Not an easy one.  I’m trying my very best to let go of negative emotions that I know won’t get me anywhere. It is difficult, but I just keep telling myself to let go of them every day, hoping that if I keep telling myself, eventually I will.  I remind myself to be grateful.  Walk outside.  Write. Take note of the beauty in the world.  Acknowledge my feelings and try to move on.

We are humans, not machines.  None of us will ever be perfect, especially this time of year.  Give yourself a pass.  If I get a great piece of advice from a blogger who is only human and did not practice what they preached for a day, I am still thankful for the insight.  I may fail as well, but that doesn’t make wise words any less wise. There will always be time to reset.  That’s what January is for.

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  • Wow – we really run the gambit when you break it all down! Over indulging seems to be the name of the game for many – eating, drinking, spending, consuming. It’s a miracle anyone can make it into the new year without a debt of come kind whether it be financial, emotional, or otherwise. I have made a conscious choice to lighten up this holiday. I don’t spend much unless there is a meaning to it. I don’t eat much at parties (that is helped due to my vegetarian adverse family) and thankfully my family doesn’t drink much. I do, however, feel that twinge of emotional weight added onto me each year but I have come to terms with things as a greater whole. Watching people come and go as families can be difficult for the single gal. Then again, watching me go on vacations to Thailand can be difficult for the child raising gal. Putting things in perspective, being kind to yourself and where you are at this moment makes all the difference. You never know what is around the next corner.

  • “missing your parents as their younger, stronger selves”. Yes. Oh boy, yes.

    I try to let myself feel the blues, but limit how much time I allow myself this indulgence.

    • Yes… we have to acknowledge and allow ourselves to feel life’s deep emotions. We need to process. But you’re right, those times need to be finite if we are going to have a healthy relationship with the present.

  • Thanks for the shoutout, Linda! And I appreciate your response. I’m appreciating the chance to reset, and hadn’t tied it to the holidays but that probably is part of it.

    I have to say I definitely resonated with the sadness of the holidays…missing my mom, watching my dad and inlaws getting older, the knowledge that my daughter’s childhood is shooting past for good (She just had us take her to Doctor Strange! Instead of Moana!) and ill (she’s got that tweenaged eyeroll and sarcasm down pat already and she’s only 6.)

    I like the idea of shorter term goals and postponing my treats for this month. So easy to give in to the eggnog and cookies but maybe they can wait til at least the 18th.

    • You are so welcome. I loved your post. I do think that ordinary day to day challenges take on an added urgency this time of year, even just sitting in a traffic jam. Emotions are near the surface and it everything is very loaded. We just need to be kind to ourselves.

  • I think it’s okay to say “no” during the holidays too. Don’t say yes to every invite or party. Prioritize what’s important. We are skipping a few things to make our Christmas more enjoyable for us, our family. We usually host a a party between Christmas and New Years and we are putting it off until January, just to make things a little less stressful for us.

    • Yes, I agree. It’s funny, Christmas, more than any other time, I just want to be home. Please, invite me over in January and February when I am bored, depressed and desperate for socializing and human contact!

  • I can totally relate, Linda! I think we all have those “what the hell” moments now and then, but it is easier to do it around the holidays. It’s funny, I just wrote a post for after the holidays addressing this exact issue.

    The excess food usually gets me…but I also find I have a hard time adjusting to getting back to “real” life after the holidays.

  • I pause and ask myself what I’m doing throughout my day, too! Such a great way to snap out of it, especially when I’m chasing rabbit trails. We’re really struggling to keep our Christmas debt free alongside uncertainty of family events and regular expensive life items. So hard, and probably why we’re in a debt mess in the first place.

    • Thank you for commenting Jamie. I certainly do know the feeling. By the way, I have one of your little boy Christmas gift suggestions on my list for my little one – that little car track that you can stick anywhere. So perfect – he is always asking me to set up his complicated hot wheels tracks and I never do – I don’t know how! All of your recommendations were things that my boys would love…

  • When you mentioned the saddness of watching your kids outgrow Christmas, I really empathized. My oldest two are 13 and 9-my oldest has been over Santa for several years, and now the younger one will be either this year or next. My little guy (1 1/2) doesn’t know what Christmas is yet. So I’m feeling a bit sad that Christmas just won’t be as magical for the older ones soon. Luckily they’re still excited for the holiday, just in a different way

    • I have loved Christmas my whole life and I know my kids will too. But there is a magic that goes away with Santa. My oldest has actually been distraught about Santa not being real this year – he is a sensitive soul, lord help him. I can’t help but feel wistful about it, just watching them grow. It’s not even that it goes by so fast, it’s that they are children for such a very short time… -Linda

  • I’m trying to remember the Dyker Heights displays. It’s somewhere in the recesses of my brain but I can’t picture it…My worst Christmases were years ago when I felt like I was missing out, not being a Christian. But since I’m married to one, I get the benefit of having a large, happy family holiday. One thing I miss though, is the Italian Christmas Eve food fest Mr. G’s uncle used to prepare. Seafood salad with scungilli – yum. He used to laugh at me because I was the only one who wolfed it down. I hear you on the sad memories of people now gone. That feeling can take over me any time of year since my parents are gone. Mr. G’s uncle, and all 4 of his grandparents (who were alive when we got married in our 40s!) are gone too.

    • Yes, the holidays really make you think of those who are not around. My family has always done the big Italian Christmas Eve fishy feast. But not that my sisters host, they do not really do it the way it was when I grew up and I miss it a lot. Now it’s some fish, but not all fish. It was always my favorite meal of the year, and I really miss it. It really was a different generation that could sit around all day eating course after course, which is really the only way to eat that complicated meal. Maybe that is why I miss it so, because it really represents my parents, and even more my grand-parents. But last Christmas I perfected the octopus salad of my childhood, so that is one thing I have saved. 🙂 -Linda

    1. Mrs. Groovy 08:36am 09 December - 2016 - Reply

      I’m trying to remember the Dyker Heights displays. It’s somewhere in the recesses of my brain but I can’t picture it…My worst Christmases were years ago when I felt like I was missing out, not being a Christian. But since I’m married to one, I get the benefit of having a large, happy family holiday. One thing I miss though, is the Italian Christmas Eve food fest Mr. G’s uncle used to prepare. Seafood salad with scungilli – yum. He used to laugh at me because I was the only one who wolfed it down. I hear you on the sad memories of people now gone. That feeling can take over me any time of year since my parents are gone. Mr. G’s uncle, and all 4 of his grandparents (who were alive when we got married in our 40s!) are gone too.

      • Brooklyn Bread 09:40am 09 December - 2016 - Reply

        Yes, the holidays really make you think of those who are not around. My family has always done the big Italian Christmas Eve fishy feast. But not that my sisters host, they do not really do it the way it was when I grew up and I miss it a lot. Now it’s some fish, but not all fish. It was always my favorite meal of the year, and I really miss it. It really was a different generation that could sit around all day eating course after course, which is really the only way to eat that complicated meal. Maybe that is why I miss it so, because it really represents my parents, and even more my grand-parents. But last Christmas I perfected the octopus salad of my childhood, so that is one thing I have saved. 🙂 -Linda

    2. Liz@ChiefMomOfficer 05:01am 06 December - 2016 - Reply

      When you mentioned the saddness of watching your kids outgrow Christmas, I really empathized. My oldest two are 13 and 9-my oldest has been over Santa for several years, and now the younger one will be either this year or next. My little guy (1 1/2) doesn’t know what Christmas is yet. So I’m feeling a bit sad that Christmas just won’t be as magical for the older ones soon. Luckily they’re still excited for the holiday, just in a different way

      • Brooklyn Bread 10:45am 06 December - 2016 - Reply

        I have loved Christmas my whole life and I know my kids will too. But there is a magic that goes away with Santa. My oldest has actually been distraught about Santa not being real this year – he is a sensitive soul, lord help him. I can’t help but feel wistful about it, just watching them grow. It’s not even that it goes by so fast, it’s that they are children for such a very short time… -Linda

    3. Jamie @ Medium Sized Family 01:12pm 05 December - 2016 - Reply

      I pause and ask myself what I’m doing throughout my day, too! Such a great way to snap out of it, especially when I’m chasing rabbit trails. We’re really struggling to keep our Christmas debt free alongside uncertainty of family events and regular expensive life items. So hard, and probably why we’re in a debt mess in the first place.

      • Brooklyn Bread 04:17pm 05 December - 2016 - Reply

        Thank you for commenting Jamie. I certainly do know the feeling. By the way, I have one of your little boy Christmas gift suggestions on my list for my little one – that little car track that you can stick anywhere. So perfect – he is always asking me to set up his complicated hot wheels tracks and I never do – I don’t know how! All of your recommendations were things that my boys would love…

    4. […] Here are some other thoughts to help you enjoy positive aspects of the holidays. […]

    5. Amanda @ centsiblyrich 05:26pm 04 December - 2016 - Reply

      I can totally relate, Linda! I think we all have those “what the hell” moments now and then, but it is easier to do it around the holidays. It’s funny, I just wrote a post for after the holidays addressing this exact issue.

      The excess food usually gets me…but I also find I have a hard time adjusting to getting back to “real” life after the holidays.

    6. Brian @ Debt Discipline 08:37am 02 December - 2016 - Reply

      I think it’s okay to say “no” during the holidays too. Don’t say yes to every invite or party. Prioritize what’s important. We are skipping a few things to make our Christmas more enjoyable for us, our family. We usually host a a party between Christmas and New Years and we are putting it off until January, just to make things a little less stressful for us.

      • Brooklyn Bread 09:36am 02 December - 2016 - Reply

        Yes, I agree. It’s funny, Christmas, more than any other time, I just want to be home. Please, invite me over in January and February when I am bored, depressed and desperate for socializing and human contact!

    7. Emily @ JohnJaneDoe 05:52pm 01 December - 2016 - Reply

      Thanks for the shoutout, Linda! And I appreciate your response. I’m appreciating the chance to reset, and hadn’t tied it to the holidays but that probably is part of it.

      I have to say I definitely resonated with the sadness of the holidays…missing my mom, watching my dad and inlaws getting older, the knowledge that my daughter’s childhood is shooting past for good (She just had us take her to Doctor Strange! Instead of Moana!) and ill (she’s got that tweenaged eyeroll and sarcasm down pat already and she’s only 6.)

      I like the idea of shorter term goals and postponing my treats for this month. So easy to give in to the eggnog and cookies but maybe they can wait til at least the 18th.

      • Brooklyn Bread 09:41am 02 December - 2016 - Reply

        You are so welcome. I loved your post. I do think that ordinary day to day challenges take on an added urgency this time of year, even just sitting in a traffic jam. Emotions are near the surface and it everything is very loaded. We just need to be kind to ourselves.

    8. Mrs. BITA 02:20pm 01 December - 2016 - Reply

      “missing your parents as their younger, stronger selves”. Yes. Oh boy, yes.

      I try to let myself feel the blues, but limit how much time I allow myself this indulgence.

      • Brooklyn Bread 03:45pm 01 December - 2016 - Reply

        Yes… we have to acknowledge and allow ourselves to feel life’s deep emotions. We need to process. But you’re right, those times need to be finite if we are going to have a healthy relationship with the present.

    9. Miss Mazuma 12:49pm 01 December - 2016 - Reply

      Wow – we really run the gambit when you break it all down! Over indulging seems to be the name of the game for many – eating, drinking, spending, consuming. It’s a miracle anyone can make it into the new year without a debt of come kind whether it be financial, emotional, or otherwise. I have made a conscious choice to lighten up this holiday. I don’t spend much unless there is a meaning to it. I don’t eat much at parties (that is helped due to my vegetarian adverse family) and thankfully my family doesn’t drink much. I do, however, feel that twinge of emotional weight added onto me each year but I have come to terms with things as a greater whole. Watching people come and go as families can be difficult for the single gal. Then again, watching me go on vacations to Thailand can be difficult for the child raising gal. Putting things in perspective, being kind to yourself and where you are at this moment makes all the difference. You never know what is around the next corner.

      • Brooklyn Bread 03:43pm 01 December - 2016 - Reply

        You are so right. And with social media we’re all trying to have the perfect life, while feeling like everyone else is still having a better time than us.

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