A Christmas state of mind

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Get yourself in a state this Christmas, writes life coach Jan Aitken - just make sure it's the right one for the occasion. 

Jan Aitken
Jan Aitken

A couple of columns ago I wrote about the benefits of putting up your Christmas decorations early. It was slightly tongue-in-cheek and I received a fair amount of good-natured ribbing over it. But try as we might, there's no denying that Christmas is just around the corner. Each Christmas, I try to write something about getting prepared for the festive season. This year is no different, I still see people getting tied up in knots over Christmas.

Christmas can be a very mixed time for people: some people absolutely love it and look forward to it for the other 364 days of the year, while others absolutely hate it and dread it for the other 364 days of the year. Most sit somewhere in between those two extremes.

This year I want to look at how we can deal with feeling overwhelmed, how we can deal with irritating or upsetting people and how to be more mindful around what we eat and drink during the festive season.

The key to handling all of these things is to be in the right state of mind or "state". The state you are in will have a physiological effect; that is, it will change your body chemistry and the way your nervous system processes things. It will also change the focus of your attention and you can end up being sucked down a black hole of the dominant emotional feeling. Around Christmas, the dominant feelings can often be overwhelmed, anxiety, anger and irritation.

Feeling overwhelmed and/or anxious can be really distressing. So to help your brain out, the first step is to slow down your internal voice. All the stuff that's racing around in your head, slow it down. It's like talking to yourself in slow motion. That has a direct effect on your nervous system and your breathing, which helps your mind and body relax. Then ask yourself "What is the thing I need to focus on? What's the next best step I can take?".

You may find it helpful to make a list and prioritise it. Focus only on the item at the top. Then approach that task in a purposefully calm way, maintaining a deep, slow breathing pattern and break large tasks into smaller chunks.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Change your state if you feel you need to; try playing music you like or getting together with a friend to do some of the tasks, take a brief walk. Do something different to help change the overwhelmed feeling.

People can also overwhelm you, especially if they are demanding your time, attention or being difficult. That brings us to how to deal with people.

There is no particular trick here, it all comes back to your state. The truth is no-one can make you anxious, angry, irritated, overwhelmed sad etc. No-one else is in control of your state and how you feel, only you are. No one can "trigger" you, they don't have that power. You trigger yourself. That's actually great news because it gives you control of how you feel. Their behaviour is separate from your response. It does mean that you need to accept responsibility for yourself and to stop blaming others for making you anxious, angry, irritated, overwhelmed sad etc. That can be a stumbling point for some, they want to remain in a space where they can blame someone else "for making them ..."

If you're thrown in with difficult friends/family/others that you would rather not be with, the best approach is to manage your own state rather than try to change their behaviour. You can't do that, only they can, if they choose to.

If the irritating cousin or bigoted uncle starts one of their rants, ask yourself "Is this worth me ruining my Christmas or my happiness and health for?" or "Is their terrible behaviour worth me changing my physiology for?".

If you find yourself in an unhealthy or unhelpful state, take notice of what it is, name it and then gently start to shift it. Think about what state you would rather be in, i.e. calm, happy, energised, and then recall a time when you were in that state, what it felt like, what you were doing. This will help you reconnect with those more comfortable feelings.

In these situations, Phil Parker, a therapist, educator and generally wise man, suggests you "aim to regain your sense humour". He has a technique that he calls The Magic Halibut, but I prefer Billy Bass (the mounted moving/singing fish that was all the rage years ago).

Imagine Billy sitting on the irritating persons' head. Every time they start on one of the offensive, boring etc tirades simply imagine Billy Bass doing his thing on their head. Humour will help lighten a situation and can flip things by helping you rise out of the pit of murky feelings.

Another way to help deal with difficult people is to bring some compassion back to the situation, compassion towards yourself and towards others. Chances are the difficult folk aren't having a blast either, they are being triggered by things as well. Bringing a sense of compassion and kindness to the party might be the best gift you give to yourself and others this Christmas.

Christmas is traditionally a time when many complain of having overindulged with food and alcohol. That's fairly understandable, there's usually a lot of both around.

It's always good to be prepared. Have a think about what it is that traditionally trips you up. Is it too many fruit mince tarts? Maybe it's too much pudding on Christmas day, or Christmas cake, potato chips, apple ciders at the work do or maybe it's a combination of all the above! Being aware of your tripping points can help you build strategies to minimise them. When you're faced with the buffet or open bar be mindful about what you're eating and drinking. A great question to ask yourself is "how will I feel after I've eaten/drunk this"? and "what are the consequences of having this"? These questions raise your awareness about what you're ingesting. Bear in mind though, your ability to rationally choose well will diminish according to the number of alcoholic beverages you consume!

Christmas is meant to be enjoyable and fun.

Spend some time now thinking about what state you would like to approach Christmas in this year. Start noticing and identifying what states you find yourself in during the day. Begin to play with changing your state if you identify you're in an unpleasant one. You may not get it right all the time, but the more you try the better you'll get and the higher the chance of you having an enjoyable festive season by the time Christmas day rolls around.

Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach.

For more go to www.fitforlifecoaches.co.nz.



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