Attention. This is a public service announcement from your wise mind, reminding you of what happens every year around this time. You know what I’m talking about. The holidays. Every year, you go in with the best intentions, ready for this year to be different, but all it takes is one sour look from your Mom or one comment from a sibling and pretty soon you’re on your second bottle of chardonnay fretting over how your parents have never really supported you, how your brother looks down on you, and how Uncle John is, well, the worst person ever. But what if you tried to do things a bit differently this year? Sound impossible? You might be surprised. Here are some tips to help you separate yourself from all of those negative, unhelpful thoughts this year…
1. Remember that our brains are a bit of a mess: There’s a lot of stuff up there: your fears that the turkey won’t come out as well as when grandma used to make it, your political anxieties, memories of every time your mother-in-law has criticized your parenting, and a lots of other triggering stuff. Some of these thoughts are true, some are a little bit true, some are just plain false. The important thing to remember is that a thought’s “truth” isn’t necessarily an indicator of its worth. This year, ask yourself how helpful your triggering holiday thoughts have been for you over the years. And what has focusing on these thoughts ever done for you?
2. Remember that thoughts are just thoughts: Our thoughts can seem really ‘real.’ When we are focusing on them, we can visualize things, experience intense emotions, and actually feel like something really bad is happening in the real world. But if we take a step back and look around, we will often discover that nothing too bad is actually happening, and that we were only experiencing something in our imagination.
3. Accept the existence of your thoughts but don’t engage with them. Realize that your negative, triggering thoughts are going to pop into your head this year, just like they always do. Your reactions to these thoughts over the years have reinforced them to the point that they will continue to show up for some time. There’s nothing you can do about that. But giving into the thoughts? That’s a whole other matter. This year, try to stop yourself from engaging with your thoughts. Don’t try and argue with them. Don’t try and figure out if they are true or not. When you catch yourself getting stuck in your head, gently unhook yourself and try and return to the world of your senses. Take a break from the room if you need to. Get your muscles moving and take a few deep breaths. Take a look out the window. Pay attention to the taste of your food. And yes, if you drink alcohol, enjoy a drink or two. Just enough to calm the nerves without having to deal with a major hangover the next day (which will only negatively impact your mental health).
That’s all for today. Thank you for your attention to this important message. Give these tips a try this year. Your nerves (and your liver) may thank you.