Handling the Holidays

The holidays can be rough.  There are heightened expectations, interactions with family members in closed quarters and the monetary concerns.  For expats or those living a flight or more away, it can bring on feelings of guilt for either not wanting to head back “home” for the holidays or feelings of sadness that you can’t make it home due to work or financial constraints.  And then there’s the multiple families issue – who do spend Christmas morning with? For some families there can be a ton of different people all pressuring you to spend it with them.

How can you handle all of this stress? How do you make it through the holidays with your mental health intact?  There’s a few things you can do:

1. Make sure you have a bit of ‘me time’. Even if you have a lot of relatives and friends all around you, and you love spending time with them, you’ll still need a bit of alone time to recharge.  Hand off the kids, decline a lunch gathering or do whatever it takes to get away for a moment.  Have some quiet, even if it’s only in a bubble bath or going for a walk in the woods (heck, I can find peace in the middle of London sometimes).

2. Keep your expectations at a minimum.  Now’s not the time to think that this year is going to be “perfect”.  As you can only control your own actions and thoughts, this means that things will go wrong.  Find humour in the out of control stupidity that happens.  Dropped your turkey? Give it a wash, put it back in the oven for a bit and then carry on. Forgot to bring the wine to your in-laws? See if you can make a special cocktail out of what they have.

3. If things go very badly, walk away.  You don’t have to put up with meanness or bullying by your relatives.  You deserve better.  If someone says something offensive, feel free to say “Why would you say such a thing?” and then walk away.  If it continues, then leave the house.  YOU are not ruining the holiday – you are taking care of yourself.

4. Find ways of relaxing within a crowd.  As an introvert, I have learned how to relax within very crowded and overwhelming situations.  I can do deep breathing, short visualisations, muscle tensions exercises, etc, without anyone even knowing.

5. Have an outlet.  Call a friend, write on a forum, talk to your priest or write to me. But find a way to vent your frustrations so you don’t take them out on your nearest and dearest.

There are many ways to handle holiday stress.  The above are just a few.  If you have any you use that you think might be helpful to others, please do share!

Focusing on Your Strengths

I know.  It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  Like many people I hit a period of procrastination and lethargy and I gave in to it following a period of having a chest infection which knocked me out.  I started focusing too much on the weaknesses that I have, the things I was doing wrong and that influenced how I felt day to day.  Even though I’m a CBT therapist, it doesn’t mean that sometimes I fall prey to my own negative thoughts and beliefs.  What it does mean is that eventually I understand what I’ve been doing and I use the tools under my belt to get me back on track.  So, world, here I am again.  Ready to refocus and look at my strengths!  And luckily, an article came up in Psychology Today about why it’s so important to focus on your strengths.  I’ll paraphrase below or you can check it out in full by clicking on this link.

1. It makes you happier – well, of course, when you focus on what you are good at, you are less likely to think about negative things

2. You experience less stress – by focusing on strengths, you will become more resilient and able to deal with any negative thoughts which would impact your stress levels

3. Have more energy – you are more likely to live a healthier lifestyle when you are positively focused (as someone who used to eat their emotions, this makes so much sense!)

4. Feel more satisfied with life – by looking at strengths, you will be a better problem solver and so be more okay with the outcomes

5. Faster development – when you focus on your strengths, you will develop new skills more quickly and easily

6. More creative – the feelings of authenticity that come with strengths focused work also increases creativity

7. More confident – you can look forward and push through mistakes more easily

8. Feel engaged and find meaning in work – when you are doing something that feeds your strengths, then you will also be feeding your inner drive

 

 

Need help to figure out your strengths?  You can check out this free survey to figure out your strengths profile (you do have to register to do so)

I will share that my top five character strengths were: Forgiveness, Love, Kindness, Honesty & Fairness…which I do believe ‘clicks’ with the person that I am.

Raising Resilient Adults

It’s easy for parents to think just in the moment.  To want to save their kids from pain and worry. I know my parents did. I know that I certainly would a lot of the time. And sometimes we lose the fact that what we really should be doing is raising our children to be the way we want them to be at age 25. What life skills and characteristics do you want your children to have when they hit 25? From working with parents, they want their kids to be resilient, kind, strong, happy, honest and many other very positive qualities. So, how do you get there?

This article, written by Mickey Goodman, points out that we need to let our children fail and learn when they are young to develop many of these skills. What? Failure can lead to happiness? Amazingly enough, yes. When you fail, you have to look for alternative ways to deal with the problem. Sometimes, you learn that giving up is the best option, because you don’t have a strength in that area. Sometimes, you learn to struggle through without the aim of success but with the aim of just doing. Sometimes, you learn to do something in a new and different way. Each of these allow you to learn about yourself, about what makes you stronger, about what makes you happier. You learn resilience, which gives you power.

As a 16 year old, I had rarely failed at anything. I expected that when I took my driving test that I would pass straight away. I was smart. I had practiced. Those two things should lead to success, right? Nope. I failed it twice. I was embarrassed. But I learned. Sometimes, it takes a lot of work to get to where you want to get, and sometimes you have to fail along the way. My dad watched me fail the second time and heard the driving evaluator tell me that I did fine but that he felt I just needed a bit more practice on the stick before he felt comfortable passing me. He could have stepped in and argued with the guy, telling him that the car shuttered in the best of times and it wasn’t my fault. But he didn’t. He let me fail, again. And while I cried and was unhappy for a while, I learned. Happily, this was not the last time I failed at something. And I am constantly learning about myself and the world. Without those failures, I would most likely have never taken the risks I did – including moving overseas to a city where I knew no one for a job at a school I had never visited.

Here are a few of the suggestions that the article gives to parents for raising strong 25 year olds (and note, they call them painful, because they are):
“We need to let our kids fail at 12 – which is far better than at 42,” he says. “We need to tell them the truth (with grace) that the notion of ‘you can do anything you want’ is not necessarily true.”

Kids need to align their dreams with their gifts. Every girl with a lovely voice won’t sing at the Met; every Little League baseball star won’t play for the major leagues.

• Allow them to get into trouble and accept the consequences. It’s okay to make a “C-.” Next time, they’ll try harder to make an “A”.

• Balance autonomy with responsibility. If your son borrows the car, he also has to re-fill the tank.

• Collaborate with the teacher, but don’t do the work for your child. If he fails a test, let him take the consequences.

“We need to … allow children to fail while they are young in order to succeed when they are adults.”

8: Increase Flow Experiences

According to Psychology Today, flow is a state of effortless concentration and enjoyment. I remember quite a few moments of flow in my life – while playing field hockey, getting married to my husband, while singing in front of a church audience. In a flow state, you feel almost as if time has slowed down. Nothing else comes between you and your task. It is a fine line and a balancing act. I think I best achieve flow while reading, as the world could almost blow up and I wouldn’t notice.

So how does one achieve flow? Flow is achieved when doing a task that may be a challenge but it’s one you can handle. Flow can be achieved if you fully concentrate on the task at hand and nothing else. I think flow can be hard to achieve in this day and age of trying to achieve so many things at once. How often are we truly focused?

Just two weekends ago, I went to a mindfulness day. Meditation was difficult, but I enjoyed it. I believe eventually, I will be able to get in the flow through being more mindful of what I’m doing and living in the moment.

If you’d like to read more, then check out Finding Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

2. Cultivate Optimism

The second thing that happy people tend to do differently is to cultivate optimism. When the students ask me how I can be so positive and optimistic, I ask them if they would want to talk to a counsellor who isn’t. They laugh and see my point. Optimism can be an amazing thing.

Optimism can have a very positive effect, particularly if you think about the idea of a self-fulfilling prophesy. In a self-fulfilling prophesy, you predict that something is going to happen in your future. This prediction tends to come true due to a feedback system. If I am optimistic that things are going to go well, then I will act in this way and thus it’s more likely that things will go well. The opposite applies too.

Optimism is part of a growth mindset (if you haven’t read Carol Dweck’s book, you need to!). For example, if you have a failure, instead of seeing it as horrible, you’ll see it as a mistake to learn from, an opportunity to grow.

So, every day, take a minute or two to imagine just how well the day is going to go. Visualize yourself doing an activity the way you want it to go. It’s more likely to happen that way.