Perhaps 2015 has been a tough year. Or it's been a series of difficult years. You worry about what to say when someone asks about your year, or how other's achievements, acquisitions and brags might make you feel. If you're torn between your feelings of Bah Hambug and the potential of the holiday season, you're not alone. Here's seven ideas that might help.
Quash the bully
It hit my friend that his childhood bully had been gone for twenty years; instead, he had become his own biggest bully. Our inner thugs tell us we're stupid, unworthy and different, and that we're headed for a life of doom and gloom. When we stand up to our bullies, we can recognize the progress we've made, and treat ourselves without feeling guilty.
Action point: Identify what your inner bully says and does.
Channel your superhero
Short of wielding a light saber and donning your favorite costume, channeling the superhero is a quick hack that increases your confidence. When we're anxious, we curl up our bodies to protect ourselves and look less visible. Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy found that this triggers the release of stress hormone cortisol. When we adopt "high power poses," such as standing tall with our chests out and hands on our hips, our bodies release testosterone. We become assertive, confident and relaxed.
Action point: Before a potentially difficult conversation, take two minutes in a bathroom or bedroom and stand in a high power pose.
Know it's not your fault
Here's a question: What if our heroic efforts to battle our difficult thoughts and feelings actually trap us deeper in quicksand? Before you beat yourself up again, welcome to the quagmire that everyone deals with. Some facts:
1. Our difficult thoughts and feelings are fundamentally useful-- depression signals when to retreat so we can conserve our resources and recharge; anxiety prepares us to fight, solve a problem or run away. But when things get difficult -- because something bad has happened or we've done something we're not proud of -- these negative emotions morph into depression, anxiety and co. on steroids. Fighting them worsens our situation.
2. We will always have random thoughts and feelings popping up. Case-in-point: Some people feel worse after meditating, mainly because they judge themselves for having thoughts and feelings, or meditate to escape them. Holding on these thoughts and feelings, or trying to suppress them, causes them to grow stronger with a vengeance.
Action point: Understand the nature of our mind and emotions, and know that we don't have to be swept away by them. Bonus: Here's a guide to a three-minute mindfulness meditation I wrote for you that teaches you how to deal with your thoughts and emotions.
Connect with your inner nurturer
A part of us wants to feel safe, warm and cared for. Yet some of my clients tell me that the idea of a inner nurturer sounds incongruous with who they are. If so, think about the side of you that cares for someone else -- your loved one, a child or a pet. When they feel negative emotions, we don't tell them they're being stupid, and we treat them with love. Similarly, our own difficult emotions don't go away because we will them to. I like what Zen monk and meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh advises -- cradle our emotions and take care of them. That way, we learn to understand where they come from and how to help ourselves. When we face our fears squarely, we grow as people.
Action point: Allow yourself to feel your negative emotions instead of beating yourself up. Then, breathe into them, knowing that you feel them because you are human.
Ask: "What can I be grateful for?"
We're so caught up in what we lack, or busy trying to be grateful for everything else, that we forget to thank the most important person in our lives -- us. Here are some questions to reflect upon:
1. What do I love about myself?
2. What changes have I made this year that I'm thankful for.
3. What painful lessons am I now thankful for.
Action point: Tap into gratitude. Here's seven questions on cultivating gratitude to reflect on.
Choose your battles and confidantes
Here's the deal: You can choose how much or little you tell anyone. There's the people you despise talking to year-on-year, and all you need is a vague one-liner about what's going on. Or, turn the conversation towards them, letting them talk about themselves. And then, there's the people whom you can be vulnerable and honest with. These people have your back.
Action point: How much information you give out is really your business and your choice.
Ask: "What meaning can I give to this holiday season?"
There's a difference between being aware of the commercialism of the holidays and feeling paralyzed by cynicism. Psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl wrote that the most powerful driving force in humans is the striving to make meaning in life. Sometimes, difficult times are a timely opportunity to rediscover what we truly desire, and what meaning we want to give to the events in our lives. Here's how some of my clients have reframed the holidays:
1. It's a time for family (and that includes learning to be around those I dislike)
2. It's a time to rest and reflect
3. It's a time to close the old chapter and begin the new
Action point: Even if you question why you're celebrating the holidays like everyone else, you can also infuse your own reason.
We all wish difficult times could just disappear, and that we'd know what to do next.
The kindest thing we can do during these times is to take care of ourselves. As Alan Watts said, "There will always be suffering, the trick is to not suffer over the suffering."
Happy holidays, and I wish you peace and joy.