Enjoy the Christmas Good, Survive the Bad
Even 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
You Might Also Like
© 2015 Angel. All rights reserved