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The run up to Christmas is a very special time. For some it’s filled with positive expectation and excitement, yet for others, it’s a time of increased pressure and frenzy. Perhaps for most, it’s actually a bit of both.
This is an article about how we do our thinking, and how what’s true for one is not for another. It’s also about how we can all do better to enjoy the festivities and start the new year with a great attitude.
Most people would agree with the ideal of Christmas, a kind of stereotype to live up to, and enjoy. Actually, this is easy as we have some strong traditions and heritage to follow, as well as our own personal experience and childhood memories, which we can choose to recall above all others. Take a moment to think about that.
We can use the imagination to conjure images of the coming together of families, present giving and receiving, good food, fun games and social interactions, shopping, as well as going out with work colleagues and friends. In fact, most people spend much of their days either future forecasting an event or situation, or thinking about times gone by, which may be recent or long past. This might be racing forward to get a job finished, or looking back a the achievements of the day.
We all have certain societal associations with Christmas, but we also have our own personal subjective experiences. It’s these, which will tell a truer tale of how we will enjoy the festivities, or not!
Christmas itself presents for many people a very potent time. Due to an increase in stress in the run-up, then mixed with high expectations, and sometimes layers of guilt, unspoken truths, and personal disappointments or other emotional factors.
As hypnotherapists who deal with these things regularly, let us explain.
All things being equal, expectations are based on experience. The brain endeavors to make sense of the world it sees by referencing incoming signals with past experiences. You can think of these as behavioral or belief templates, which dictate how we tend to respond (sometimes inappropriately) in a given situation. This actually takes place in the original and very primitive parts of the brain. It’s cause and effect. Subconscious reactions to stimuli. It’s how we learn to avoid dangerous situations, raising our anxiety, getting us agitated, increasing our unease, perhaps even helping us run away faster, or stand up and fight!
However, this mechanism also allows us to raise our stress and anxiety around any event or situation. For many, Christmas is also a time, which reminds people of problems, lost relatives, bitter relationships, or absent relationships. Even the average well-functioning family has its drama, and it can all come to a head at Christmas.
Anxiety, Stress, Depression & Anger are all emotional reactions that have everything to do with the way we think. In fact, all negative thinking is converted into anxiety, which is stored in what we call a ‘stress bucket’. Unfortunately, this bucket can overflow, which explains a lot of day to day issues that people seek help for – stress, anxiety, breakdown, depression…. Interestingly, this also correlates directly and inversely with the amount to which we remain in cognitive control of our thinking, and our ability to remain positive in a given situation. In short, a full stress bucket will cause us to lose this control, and we will more likely follow those old subconscious patterns.
This is why, despite best intentions, many people find themselves responding in more primitive ways that they would not have intended. And the problem is that this just makes matters worse by filling the bucket even further.
High spirits, high excitement, or high anxiety?
Indeed, loss of control is a cause for lots of the problems associated with Christmas; binge drinking, over-eating, obsessive thinking, controlling behavior etc. That is why, if we want to get the best from the festivities, then it’s so important to get good at the habits that reduce stress and increase cognitive control. We do this by consciously and purposefully thinking, acting, and interacting positively, making sure that we remain relaxed and reminding ourselves what is really important, helpful, and appropriate.
Once we are clear that this is the goal, then we can look for opportunities to achieve this. What do you want your attitude to be this Christmas? You don’t need to wait until the new year to do better so why not start now?