Post by Laura Jay-Ballinger
As a behavioral health therapist, I often hear my patients say that the holidays just don’t seem to be what they “should.” Instead of instant holiday bliss as shown in magical holiday movies, people often report feeling frustrated, disappointed, and unfulfilled. How does this happen? And what can we do to live well… even during the holidays?
It seems that the first step is letting go of the romanticized idea that just because it is the holiday season, all will be right with the world. If one is struggling emotionally before the holiday season, it is unlikely to disappear because November or December rolls around. This seems like a silly, simple idea, but I think it has some merit. Instead of pressuring ourselves into a forced happiness, let us give ourselves some grace in understanding that the holidays can be difficult.
Remembering the loss of loved ones, strained family relationships, and financial stress can all contribute to lack of yuletide bliss. Give yourself permission to be human– that is, to feel and grieve if you need to. It seems that we often convince ourselves that we have to be robotic elves with painted smiles during the holidays. What a tall order to live up to!
One the other hand, let’s not forget the power of genuine gratitude and positive thinking. Though it is important to acknowledge our humanness and let ourselves feel, it’s also important to be intentional about focusing our thoughts on those things in our lives for which we are authentically thankful. Finding those nuggets in our lives that are positive in the midst of frustration and darkness can change how we think about ourselves and the world and, in turn, influence our emotional experience. In fact, studies have shown that those who exercise regular, intentional expressions of gratitude report higher levels of happiness, have fewer health complaints, exercise more, sleep better, express more goodwill toward others, and even have better marriages!
How do you make this happen? Try a daily gratitude journal. Each morning when you wake or each night before you go to bed, write down three things in your life that you are truly thankful for. Also, be intentional each day about expressing to others what you appreciate about them as well as telling yourself one thing you’ve done well or a positive quality about yourself.
What’s ONE thing you’re thankful for this holiday season? Tell us!