Coping with Christmas
Lifetime and Hallmark are known for their annual feel-good Christmas movies. The nostalgia, fulfilled wishes, and reconciliation portrayed in these films offer a picture of the world not as it is but as we’d like it to be. While there is nothing wrong with indulging in these brief escapes into fantasy, problems can arise when we unconsciously harbor false expectations about our own realities. No matter how grounded we are it can be quite difficult to remain free from the impact these characterizations subconsciously have on our expectations for the season. From the movies, to the commercials, and even magazine covers, we are bombarded with images of shinny lights, expensive gifts, and seemingly happy families enjoying one another’s company. For many of us, these blissful images and notions are far from our reality. This breach between our desired and actual reality can leave us feeling bleak.
So, how are we to cope when the Christmas season is not the hap-happiest season of all for us?
The first step involves increasing our awareness and resetting our expectations. The messaging around what Christmas time “should” be is so constant that we may fail to realize how much it has impacted our thinking, beliefs, and behavior. Many people find themselves accruing debt to purchase gifts for their loved ones. However, when asked about what truly matters to us, most would say it is the time spent together rather than the gifts. If this is so, why is it that every year more and more people find themselves spending money they don’t have during this season? I believe it is due to a lack of awareness. We engage in decision making without even realizing that there is a choice being made. It’s liberating to realize that we can choose how we celebrate the season. With increased awareness we can work to reset our expectations by taking stock of what really matters to us and prioritizing our true values over the ones the media conditions us to gravitate towards.
Secondly, we cope better when we are clear about what we can and can’t control. Often, we feel overwhelmed or depressed by circumstances due to a perceived lack of control. While we may not be able to control or change the actions of others, our finances (at times), or a terrible loss; there are many things we can control. One of the most important areas we can exercise control of is our thoughts. We can begin to notice when we are dwelling on or repeating negative self-talk and practice redirecting our thoughts to more affirming truths. We can also control how we respond to others who choose negative actions. We can even choose how we grieve and honor loved ones we have lost. While this certainly is not always as easily done as it is said, it is empowering when fully embraced.
After gaining increased awareness of our expectations, reprioritizing our values, and clarifying what we can and can not control; we then need to create a plan. Now, we all know that even the best laid plans can go awry, however, most of us have lived through enough holidays and family gatherings to predict what problematic patterns are likely to recur. Consider how you can shift this pattern or disengage from being a participant in an unhealthy cycle. Sometimes this is as simple as having a planned response to a question or topic of conflict that repeatedly surfaces during family gatherings. Other times, a plan may involve limiting the amount of time you are in an environment or excusing yourself from certain conversations. Extremely unhealthy dynamics may even require the creation of a completely new plan that removes you from the toxic environment altogether. Ask yourself what truly brings you joy and incorporate that into your plan.
I encourage everyone to take time this season to engage in some self-evaluation. Increase your awareness of your values and whether you are choosing actions in line with your values. Consider what you are in control of and what you do have the power to change. Finally, make a concrete realistic plan that incorporates learning from past experiences and stick to it!
C.C. Cassell, Psy.D.
C.C. Cassell is a Licensed Psychologist in the state of California and Missouri. She has over 10 years of experience in the field of psychology. She also enjoys working with individuals interested in engaging in therapy for the purpose of pursuing personal growth, insight, self-exploration, healthier relationships, better work life balance, as well as, those who simply want to improve the overall quality of their lives. Call 951-302-0093 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a free 15- minute consultation. Visit C.C. Cassell’s Profile.