Here we are again – that time of year that gets us all excited about lights, smells, food, and relatives. Oh, and friends, cookies, the Stanley Park train, and…
Wait. Why are we excited again? Is anyone else stressed? What is this peace that people keep talking about? What’s the secret, and who actually experiences peace this time of year?
I’m like everyone else. I can let the stress get to me too. So, what I’ve done is some thinking and some research that will hopefully help all of us figure out how to get some peace this year. I don’t know about you, but I think we could use it. Here are three practical ways to experience peace this Christmas, I hope they’re helpful to you!
- Say “yes” to what matters most to you, and practice presence when you are there.
“It’s crazy. I can’t believe how much I have to do!”
We nod our heads and empathize, “Yes, I know. Me too. It’s just too busy!”
I am guilty of making these kinds of “Christmas complaints.” I am also aware that these rote responses make us feel that we’re “all in this together.” What a shame it is to forget that we often have a choice in the matter and that much of what we’re begrudgingly doing may, in fact, be worth enjoying.
Christmas parties, school performances, family dinners, and year-end activities – everything can be meaningful and life-giving. If you find yourself excited about a particular activity, and you think it is a worthwhile investment of your time and energy, show up with your Ugly Christmas sweater and your party hat on! What a gift it is to be alive!
One of the keys to connecting with the activities in a positive way is to be mindful. The best way to practice mindful presence at your chosen festivity is to set your intention, going in with the knowledge that this event is not imposed upon you, but gratefully chosen by you. Allow yourself to enjoy the people you speak with, the food you choose to eat, the melody and rhythm of the music you hear, and the décor creatively displayed for your aesthetic enjoyment. Breathe deeply, attune to your five senses – sight, smell, touch, sound, taste – and pay attention to what is right in front of you in that moment.1,2
- Say “No,” to what is not a priority, and learn to be okay with disappointing people.
If it is true that we can choose to be gratefully present at an event, it is also (usually) true that we can gratefully decline to attend. In fact, it can be very liberating to do so. When we choose to simplify our schedules and scale back our commitments, we are giving our enthusiastic ‘yes’ to what we do show up at. We may also disappoint a few people along the way.
It can be very difficult to let someone down; it is even more difficult, long-term, to live with blurry boundaries and residual resentment. We may think that we have to jump when our friends and family say “jump,” and perhaps we’ve done it our entire lives. Perhaps it’s instinctual, and to do otherwise would create tension. Part of our work as humans who work toward self-identity and emotional health is to know what is not for us at this time. It does not mean that we cannot change our minds in the future and show up meaningfully then, but that in this season, at this time, we cannot take it on.3
There is a way to communicate boundaries in a respectful, effective manner. It takes practice, but with new learning and perhaps some help from a counsellor, it is possible to become skilled at lovingly communicating our intentions and expectations to others.
- Say nothing at all, and take time for solitude.
For some, it will be a challenge to take a break from the busyness, to be alone and recharge. It may feel selfish to have time away from your partner, children, parents, or co-workers, to collect your thoughts in quiet. You may literally be thinking that you will make time for yourself next year. While it is possible to push through and strong-arm this season, we remember that if we feel coerced or obligated to be somewhere (in this case, to be with people), we may find it difficult to remain present with them. One of the best gifts we can give ourselves, and those we love is to take some time alone.
It is also true that for some of us, this season will feel lonely, even when we are in a crowded room of people.4 Or perhaps we will actually be alone more than we’d like, and the idea of choosing to turn down holiday activities out of sheer busyness seems like a happy person’s privilege. There can be peace in this season for you, too. Take very good care of yourself and reach out to one person who makes you feel known.5
Wherever you find yourself this Christmas, and with whomever, you choose to spend your time, try to be intentional about when you say “yes,” what you say “no,” and when to say nothing at all.
If you struggle with some of the decisions and boundaries I’ve talked about here, give us a call. We all struggle with these things at times and sometimes an outside perspective, listening ear, and some validation can go a long way in getting us from stress to health; or, as the young people say, from the FOMO (fear of missing out) to the JOMO (joy of missing out). Ok, it’s not that simple, but boundaries don’t have to be complicated. We can help.
- Goldin, P. R., & Gross, J. J. (2010). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder. Emotion, 10(1), 83–91.org/10.1037/a0018441
- de Vibe M, Bjørndal A, Tipton E, Hammerstrøm KT, Kowalski K. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) for improving health, quality of life and social functioning in adults. Campbell Systematic Reviews 2012:3 doi: 10.4073/csr.2012.3
- Wuest, J. (1998). Setting boundaries: A strategy for precarious ordering of women’s caring demands. Research in nursing & health, 21(1), 39-49.
- Kar-Purkayastha, I. (2010). An epidemic of loneliness. The Lancet, 376(9758), 2114-2115.
- Wright, R. Coping with Loneliness.
As I sat in church this past Sunday, I was reminded that this time of year is supposed to be about hope.
For those of you who may not be familiar with the Nativity Story, the story of Jesus’ birth, is one about hope. Namely, that God came down in the form of a baby to save the world. What’s even more important to know, however, is that this is said to have happened in quite possibly the most awkward, unexpected, and improbably way possible: a virgin birth. This was beyond counter-cultural (and actually dangerous) in the culture at the time – both Joseph and Mary had some seriously difficult decisions to make and actions to take if this was to come to fruition without either of them losing their communities or quite possibly, their lives.
This got me thinking about mental health (yes, my brain goes there more often than not). It got me thinking about how I don’t often get excited about this time of year and wondering why that is. I think this year it simply crept up on me without notice and here I am, apparently in the Christmas season, and I haven’t even had time to think about it. I’ve written some of my thoughts previously, which you can find here. In short, I don’t get particularly excited about the holidays, presents, or otherwise. Some of it stress-induced, some of it is I’m not a particularly excitable person for these sorts of things, and some of it being I’m already thinking about January and it’s barely even December.
I’m Tired of Things That Don’t Last
I think part of my reticence around Christmas is that it seems to have turned into simply a gift-giving season where we give gifts that disappear shortly thereafter. Now, I actually really like giving gifts. When I have time, I tend to get creative and go all-out. I’ve never been one to get particularly excited about getting stuff. This goes for pretty much any gift, but especially the stuff we all give and get that lasts for a bit and ends up in the closet, only to be thrown out the next time we need to move.
Now, I should add to this, I always appreciate the gifts people give me. I appreciate the time that went into them, I appreciate how they taste (most people know I love chocolate and act accordingly), and most of all, I appreciate the time I spend enjoying them with others. For me, the real enjoyment comes with spending time with the people who gave me the gifts. This is what hits home, and this is what I remember.
All I Want For Christmas Is Hope
I haven’t been asked yet, but invariably I’ll get asked soon by people what it is that I want for Christmas. I honestly cannot think of a single thing I want for Christmas. For better or worse, I have every tangible thing I need – I’m very fortunate that way. This takes the discussion from needs to wants. That list is challenging because it’s very small, and generally, very expensive (i.e. I want to renovate my kitchen, there’s a laptop that could use replacing, etc.), and I would never ask for that for Christmas. And even in those areas, I’m fortunate in that I can usually find ways to get what is wanted, or I simply wait until it’s possible.
But there is one thing I both need and want. It doesn’t need to cost money, and it’s in plentiful supply if we’re all willing to give it.
“This Christmas, I need Hope.”
As I sat there in church thinking about anything but the sermon, tears came to my eyes as I realized what it was that I needed. Hope. It seems so simple, yet so difficult. One of the challenges of being a Registered Clinical Counsellor and running a growing mental health team is I am faced daily with the pain, heartache, and trauma that people experience within our community, and in our world at large. This takes a toll.
Before any of the people reading this who know me freak out, this is not a cry for help or a sign of burnout. I’m fine. I’m simply very aware of the degree to which people are hurting and are in need of hope.
This is simultaneously one of the things I absolutely love about my job, and about what we do at Alongside You – that is, we bring people hope, and often in times where they can’t see any hope for themselves.
Bringing Hope Can Mean Some Difficult Decisions
Part of what struck me about the Christmas story and the decisions and actions that Mary and Joseph had to make was how similar they were to some of the decisions we have to make when we’re recovering from mental health. It’s not an easy road, that’s for sure.
This can be a hard one! Relationships are front and centre in any battle with mental health. Whether it’s depression, anxiety, PTSD, trauma, addiction, or otherwise, relationships are front and centre. Sometimes the difficult decision may be to tell a loved one about our struggles. Sometimes it may be to tell a close relationship that what they are doing is hurting us. Sometimes it may be that we need to end a relationship in order to pursue healing and recovery.
Sometimes, like Mary, it may mean telling someone something so personal, and even unbelievable, while simultaneously being scared that it will end the relationship and have significant negative effects on our lives.
On the flip side, sometimes, like Joseph, we’re the one being told something incredibly difficult to imagine or manage. What if our loved one tells us something so difficult that we have a hard time processing it? Staying present with it? Staying in a relationship with them, knowing this new information?
It’s difficult all around. The choices we sometimes have to make in mental health can be full of anguish, and even despair.
There are plenty of potential consequences to the situation Joseph and Mary found themselves in. What about us? I know in my own journey with mental health, there have been many times where my battles have had very significant negative consequences on me and also those around me.
We don’t always make wise decisions when we struggle with anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, addiction, or other areas of mental health. In fact, more often than not, we can’t make wise decisions. It’s not that we don’t want to, it’s actually that we can’t. When we’re in fight or flight mode, our limbic system is in control and our cortex has flipped its lid. Other times, we’re simply human and we make bad decisions just like everyone else; it just means that sometimes the consequences are more dire or significant.
This Holiday Season, Focus On Experiences
I want to be excited about Christmas, I really do. I’m sure that once I’m off work (in theory) after December 20th, I’ll maybe start getting excited. My goal, however, is to get excited before then. I’ve decided I’m going to focus on experiences in my gift-giving this year, in the hopes that my gifts will last beyond the season, and selfishly, in the hopes that it gets me a little more excited even before I take some time off.
Why experiences you might ask? Well, because they don’t go to the landfill, for one. But the main reason is this:
Connection is what gives us Hope when we need it most.
As I sat with a client today, I reminisced a little bit about this, and it reminded me of one thing: In my entire history of working with clients, particularly with addiction, I can’t think of a single case where the connection wasn’t the solution. It doesn’t mean that medications, therapy, exercise, nutrition, and all of these other pieces aren’t important, because they are; what it does mean is that without connection, we don’t have hope. Without hope, we lose the point and the motivation for the other pieces.
Without connection, nothing else matters and nothing else works.
I truly believe this. Without connection, I don’t care if you have the best therapist, the best doctors, the best meds, the best exercise plan, or otherwise, it will not work.
Do you know why? Because without connection, the therapy won’t work, the doctors won’t work, the medicine won’t work, and it will all be for naught. The research shows us this fact.
What To Get Andrew For Christmas
So, this is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I’m also serious. All I want for Christmas is hope. This is what I get excited about – people. People and hope are what drives me every day. It’s literally all I can think about in terms of what I want for Christmas.
I want people to have hope.
This is why all of my Christmas gifts are going to be experiential in some way. Not stuff. Things that will help people experience themselves, and the world in a more positive way.
So, if you want to get me something for Christmas, give someone an experience, a chance to connect with you in some way. And while what I’m about to say may sound like hyperbole, it really isn’t – you can change someone’s life simply by giving them this type of a gift. It may not categorically change their life at the moment, but maybe, just maybe they’ll believe that you care about them, that they are worth it, that they have meaning.
If you really want to get me something for Christmas, come to our conference in January called Let’s Talk Hope. This is a chance for all of us to get together and find hope for mental health in our community – through connection. If you’re stuck for a present for someone you care about, bring them too.
This isn’t me schilling another conference for the sake of a conference or selling tickets. Between you and me and the rest of the internet, we aren’t running this for profit. In fact, if we cover our costs we’ll be happy. Anything over and above our costs goes straight back into helping people with mental health struggles.
I’m asking you for this for Christmas because I truly believe it could be the start of something that changes the face of mental health in our community. Not in and of itself, not as a one-stop solution, but as a start to something that points towards hope.
If you are alive and are human, we need your voice in the discussion of mental health. It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional, someone who suffers from mental illness, a parent, or otherwise. Your voice matters.
If we sell this thing out, and we come together as a community to bring hope to Delta in the face of some of the most challenging times we’ve ever had, it will be worth it.
If only one person leaves and feels more worthwhile and valued, and loved, it will be worth it.
And I guarantee it will be the best $15-30 you will ever spend.
I believe in this so strongly that if being able to afford the cost of the ticket is keeping you from coming, please contact me directly. I will personally cover the cost of you coming to the conference because I believe it will be more than worth it, and I believe you are worth it. No questions asked.
“If I spend all my Christmas money on giving you hope, it will be the best Christmas ever.”
Christmas Is About Connection
As this is my one and only blog post about the holidays this year, I want to wish you and your loved ones a Merry Christmas, and happy holidays as you enter this special time of year. It is full of surprises, stresses, and joys. It is my hope that it will be full of connection for you.
The connection is what brings us together, reminds us that we are worth it, and reminds us that there is hope in all things and in all situations.
No matter what this season brings for you, know that we believe in you and your value, and I look forward to seeing you in 2020.
Cue music. “It’s the most… won-der-ful time… of… the… Year!” Nope, not Christmas just yet. It’s BACK TO SCHOOL time. While this realization might bring fear to some and joy to others, the reality is that September is going to be here sooner than we know it. I wanted to take some time to address how families and students can prepare for school in a positive way. I wonder, how can the change of summer routine into the school routine be met with anticipation instead of dread?
This summer, I had the privilege to run into my very first teacher: Mme Buss. She taught me kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2. I remember how much I loved learned from her. I was in French Immersion and can recall looking up at her and speaking rather loudly saying, “I don’t understand what you are saying!” To which, she would continue to reply back in French and point to what I needed to be doing. Now multiply that by 25 students. Personally, I think teachers are real-life heroes. They have dedicated their career to help, support, encourage, teach and champion students. This is no small feat.
I have connected with some teachers and asked for their input, I mean they have gone back to school for years, so they are getting pretty good at it. In fact, the information that they shared with me was too much for one blog post, so stay tuned for Part 2. I love a good alliteration so this post will focus on TRUST, TEAM, and TRANSITION.
Building Trust With Your Child’s Teacher
The resounding message that was repeated over and over again was trust. It is vital for parents to trust teachers and vice versa. Perhaps, you as a parent might have had a negative experience with a teacher either as a student yourself or your child. Yet, it is so important to understand that teachers are doing the best job they can. Trust them that they are working for your child’s best interest. Trust takes time to foster and grow.
A counsellor who works in the school shared her thoughts: “I would like parents to hear… please trust me! If there are things going on with your family and I can help, please come talk to me! If your kiddo is struggling or you need support, I have resources! And if I offer you services, it’s because I care about your child and want them to be healthy and happy – it’s not a criticism of you or your parenting. Please don’t feel bothered or threatened if your child wants to talk to me – I’m here to listen without judgment. Also, while my primary job is to support the kids, if you need an ear, I will do my best to lend one!”
Another teacher explained: “When we have a fuller picture of what struggles and accomplishments a child is going through, we are more prepared to work with them and the family. It also goes a long way to speak in positive ways about your child’s teacher. We do the same for parents. For example, we always take stories from home with a grain of salt – kids don’t see the full picture of what all happened at school.”
Trust denotes belief, confidence and faith. These reflect the attitudes that are so crucial to have when building trust. There needs to be a belief in the skills and knowledge that a teacher’s posses. We must have confidence in the teacher’s capacity and care for your child and lastly, faith in the understanding that trust is built through connection and engagement.
Some things to think about:
- How would the school year be different, if you started to cultivate trust with your child’s teacher? What would trust look like?
- Imagine the impact of starting the school year with gratitude and acknowledging the hard work that each teacher puts in and thanking your child’s teacher? How can you share this gratefulness with your child’s teacher?
The Importance of Teamwork
It has been said that teamwork makes the dream work. This cannot be truer for parents, students and teachers, they are a team. I loved how one teacher expressed their perspective: “Teachers and families are a team. Families are their child’s first and best teacher, we (teachers) have so much to learn from them. We want to know about their child, big things, celebrations, important changes, please continue to inform us.”
Parents and teachers are not in competition with one another. They are a team and have a common goal: what’s best for your child. Another teacher spoke about the power of assuming the best of your child’s teacher by explaining, “teachers and parents need to be a team in order to best support the learning of each child. The attitude of ‘I am going to talk to that teacher and fix this problem!’ has way less value than, ‘I am going to talk to the teacher and see how we can work together to resolve an issue.’ Approach teachers with an assumption that they love this child and want the best for them…one of the safest assumptions ever!’” Each person has a different role in the team and yet, they are part of the team nonetheless. Play to your strengths. Speak with kindness and grace. Be generous in your assumptions of teachers.
Another teacher brought humour and humility through their words: “Though educators are “experts” in our area, we are not experts of your child – you are, dear parent/guardian! We respect that, yet our advice/comments/suggestions are to help guide your child to success as they select from the menu of school – what they like, don’t like, enjoy, are curious about – those topics, subjects and activities are where our strengths are but knowing your child as well as you do can only happen thanks to what you share and they share with us. Together we make up a three-legged stool – teacher/home/child – all equally important in the quest to reach the cookies on the top shelf.”
Some things to think about:
- Consider teaming up (see what I did there?!) and writing a letter with your child to your child’s teacher. Sharing with the teacher all about your child, letting them know the things that help your child learn best and some of the areas that are challenging for them.
- If your schedule allows it, consider showing your commitment to being part of the team by volunteering to help the teacher in whatever capacity they need.
- A small token of appreciation always helps to build a sense of teamwork, cookies anyone?
How To Manage Transitions
Switching from summer mode to school mode is challenging for the best of us. I would be remised if I didn’t speak about transitions. Transitions are hard. They can be unpredictable, confusing, and downright frustrating. It is so important to help prepare your child for the upcoming school year. An insider’s perspective shared this practical advice: “September is a big transition. Give it time. Your child may be off and act unusually. Give it 6 weeks. Compare it to you starting a new job. You’re on and trying to follow the rules, build relationships and do your best all day every day. When you come home, you want to crash, veg out, etc. As an adult, you have some strategies and abilities to set boundaries, self-regulate etc. Kids don’t necessarily have those yet. So, expect meltdowns. Expect tired and hungry kids. Expect your child to be great for the first week and then refuse to come the second, make sure you still bring them. Routine is key”.
Some tips and tricks to make transitions easier:
- Have a schedule/calendar where children can see it, so they know what is coming up and can prepare
- Take time for exercise, if possible, get outside and enjoy nature.
- Encourage your child to get lots of sleep, and you too while you are at it.
- When possible, enjoy healthy food together
- Make time to just play and hang after school, if possible save joining piano, dance, swimming for later.
- Read with your child every night.
- As your child’s best BIG person, the best thing you can do for your child at home is to model healthy living habits, love and support. Turn off screens and connect with your children.
Some things to think about:
- What tips will you incorporate for your family to help encourage a successful transition back to school?
- Consider doing some back to school shopping with your child and take some time to connect and ask how your child is feeling about the upcoming changes? How can you work together to make this school year a great one?
Going back to school brings up a myriad of emotions for both parents and students. However, there are people to support both you and your child. Alongside You provides counselling services for parents and children. If you are wanting more information or tools to know how to best support your child going back to school, please do not hesitate to reach out and contact me, or one of the many counsellors who would be more than happy to help you.
I can appreciate the not everyone has a positive experience with school. Please stay tuned for Part 2 of the Back to School Blog that will provide resources and suggestions for those students who find school a bit more challenging and need extra support.
I admit, the title is a bit tongue in cheek – the saying certainly is better than some of the alternatives such as, “I hope your New Year doesn’t suck,” or, “I hope your year is mediocre.” I sometimes wonder, however, if the phrase has any real meaning, or whether happiness is really something to shoot for anyways?
Over the holidays I was reflecting on Christmas holidays in the past and some of my experiences. 19 years ago, I was living in Ukraine with a bunch of other young people doing things like working in orphanages, teaching sex ed in the local university, and running coffee houses for local youth. I was reflecting on this mainly because it was a very different experience to be in such a different country over a holiday, but also, because the culture is so different there. One of the things they taught us before we went, over and over, was that we had to only say things we actually meant. They used the example of the phrase we so often use, “We should go for coffee.” See, here we say this all the time to simply be polite, as a way of saying goodbye, or, really, for no meaningful reason at all. There in Ukraine, if you say this, they’ll expect you to actually go for coffee and it’s a great insult if you don’t.
This got me thinking about the phrase that we say so often this time of year – “Happy New Year,” is ubiquitous in our communication at the beginning of January. In fact, as I type this, I’m pretty sure I’ve written it in at least 15 emails today alone. What I wonder is – does this phrase actually have any meaning anymore? If I put aside my cynicism over holiday expressions, I’d like to say it does. It’s a positive phrase of encouragement and well wishes for a new season of life. It certainly doesn’t do any harm. Or does it?
I wonder if we should truly be chasing happiness. I know I certainly haven’t had great success in my life chasing it, particularly when I’ve struggled with depression and even with anxiety. I know I’ve had innumerable times where I’ve been around others, seemingly happy themselves or wishing others happiness, and wondering, “What’s wrong with me?” Does this mean I’ve never been happy? Of course not, thank goodness. I’ve had plenty of happiness in my life, but it’s never been the primary focus of my life. I also know that when I’ve chased happiness, I’ve met with very little success.
If I look at my experiences, and the experiences of the clients I’ve worked with over the years, it seems to me that feeling happy is a by-product of a more important process – that is, finding meaning. See, we can find meaning in life even if we’re depressed, anxious, dealing with trauma, in the midst of an addiction, and more. I can’t say that it’s always possible to find happiness in the midst of these things.
So how do we find meaning in our life? I’d like to offer a few suggestions that I’ve noticed improve the chances of finding meaning in our day to day lives, and thus, an increased chance of being happy.
Engage in Meaningful Activities
One of the things my clients hear from me frequently is that sometimes we have to do the things that we know help us feel better before we feel like doing them, as opposed to waiting to feel better and then doing them. In this case, if we’re stuck feeling like life isn’t particularly meaningful, sometimes we may need to do things that we know have meaning for us, even if we don’t feel like it; by doing so, we greatly increase the chances of shifting our mindset and experience into a meaningful one.
Some examples of things people you might find meaningful could be:
- Spending time with friends and family
- Being creative through music, visual arts, dance, or otherwise
- Reading books that get your brain engaged, or are on a topic you have a curiosity about, or books that simply make you laugh
- Volunteering your time and/or skills for a worthy cause
One of the things I’ve realized over the holidays is that I need to spend more time investing in myself, and particularly, in learning. This realization came after reading an article that quoted Warren Buffett, which you can read here if you like. It’s been a wild 3 years here and I’ve been focusing on the business and program development a lot, but my own personal growth has not been as much of a focus. I’ve committed to spending more time reading, and pursuing education and I’ve already taken steps toward that by booking a conference in January, doing an online course, and I’m planning more for the coming year.
What is one actionable step you could take now to pursue a meaningful activity that maybe hasn’t been a priority lately?
Evaluate Your Current Activities
I’m fascinated by metrics, data, and analytics. It’s the geek in me that loves measuring results. I don’t know if I’m such a fan of these same things when they are measuring how I spend my time in the “off hours.” When I look at things like how much time I’ve spent on a screen, how much time I’ve spent on social media, how much of my reading is on Google News versus something I actually care about. There’s a lot of time spent in distraction versus intention.
Being intentional is hugely important when it comes to finding meaning in life. I’ve noticed that I get far more satisfaction in the activities I’ve intentional set out to do than the ones that I just find myself doing out of habit. The beauty of this is that there’s no right or wrong answer as to how you invest your time, but there is an affirmative or negative answer to the question, “Is doing this providing meaning in my life,” and, “By doing this activity, is it adding to my life, or is it taking away valuable time and resources from something that could be?” If it’s not adding to your life, or it’s taking away time and resources that could be providing meaning, consider whether it’s something you want to be doing.
Surround Yourself With People Who Invest In You and Speak The Truth
I actually laughed out loud after writing this title because I caught myself thinking, “Sure Andrew, let the introvert tell others to surround themselves with people.” I wasn’t thinking quantity, okay? I’m thinking quality.
I’ve got two very close friends. I’ve known each of them for 30 years or more, and at the ripe old age of 37, I think that’s significant. We know each other. We invest in each other. We ask each other the hard questions in life because we care enough to. I need people like this in my life because I spend a great part of my life caring for others. I need the same in return, and I need people who speak the truth to me even if it’s hard.
This is important when choosing a counsellor if you’re thinking about working with a Registered Clinical Counsellor this year. I remember when I was looking for my counsellor, I sat down with him and one of the first things I said was, “I need someone who isn’t afraid to call me out when I need it.” I’d been to other counsellors who were warm and caring, but didn’t challenge me and I am definitely someone who needs challenging at times. To his credit, he’s followed through and it’s been a very helpful relationship for me to have.
What Should We Say Instead of Happy New Year?
In a perfect world, I’d love it if we all had a happy 2019. As much as I tend to avoid pushing for happiness, it really is a wonderful thing. I’m a big fan of focusing on things we can control, though, and so my hope for is that you’d have a meaningful New Year, and in turn, that the meaning you create and discover in your life would bring you moments of great joy.
I’m a fan of Viktor Frankl and I’d like to leave you with a quote, in the hopes that it will help you on your journey toward meaning in 2019:
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way…happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself
From all of us at Alongside You, I hope you have a wonderful start to the New Year, and that 2019 will bring you a renewed sense of purpose and meaning…and happiness.
Articles on holiday stress are prevalent. I even wrote one back in 2015, which you can read here if you like. So why do we need another article about surviving the holidays? I can’t speak for everyone, but the reason I’m writing another one is that my hope is that we’ll all thrive, not just survive through the holidays we are about to embrace.
I don’t often look forward to the holidays – part of it is likely a personality trait of mine in that I don’t get particularly excited about holidays, birthdays, or other “special” times of the year. I’m not sure why it’s just not part of my makeup. Part of it, I think, is that as the owner and director of a rapidly growing clinic, I’m well aware of the “vacation effect” whereby any time off that I take inevitably results in work piling up and waiting for me when I return. Or perhaps it’s part of my love for routine and my contentment with life. I’m fortunate in that I love what I do, and there’s comfort in routine – I enjoy having my week go rather predictably as far as my schedule is concerned, and vacations mess with that.
I was reminded this weekend, however, that my kids love the holidays. We went to get our tree from our friends at Sunnyside Nurseries here in South Delta, and we may as well have gone to Disneyland! My kids were running wild from tree to tree, picking the best one until they came across another one to top the first, and so on and so forth until we finally ended up with a beautiful noble fir that we brought home.
Then came the decorating. My job is putting up the lights. It’s the part I care about because, well, there’s symmetry involved and I love symmetry and order. Then came the decorations, and the kids have an ongoing dialogue about who gets to put the star on top of the tree. Let me tell you, they know exactly who got to do it last year and if ever one deviates from this knowledge, a veritable onslaught of objections ensues. I realized this year that both of my girls have grown up a lot, and quite literally. They’re a lot taller now, and lifting them above my head to place the star is a much more difficult proposition than in years past! But, we figured it out and I put my younger daughter on my shoulders, climbed on the couch and onto the window sill and she placed the star on the tree. All, I might add, without injury.
It wasn’t until after we were done decorating that it hit me; that is, what I love about Christmas and the rest of the holidays. Remembering this is also what helps me survive the stress of the holiday season, which is no small feat as I’m sure you know!
I get excited by the little ones, and the little things they get excited about!
My girls are not so little anymore, which they love reminding me of on a daily basis. They may be growing up, but they still love the little things about Christmas: the decorating, making cards, baking cookies, wearing their pretty dresses, and of course, eating all the chocolate.
We may not get excited by the little things ourselves, but we can get excited vicariously through others who do. If we can do this, we’ll release endorphins, and be reminded of the joy around us, and invariably it’ll rub off on us too!
I’m mindful of what I enjoy about the season
When we’re stressed, it’s difficult to stay present, and our brain naturally focuses on the negative. It’s built into our neurobiology – when our stress level rises, our limbic system becomes more active and as a result, our brain natural looks for signs of danger – that is, the negative.
So, as we’re going from activity to activity, busying ourselves with the details, we need to remember to take time to slow down. Remember what we used to love about Christmas and all of the things that go with it. Remember those times when Christmas carols excited us and we found them soothing, rather than annoying; remember when the bells from the Salvation Army donation buckets were a positive reminder, rather than a resounding cacophony of ringing; remember when we got excited to give gifts rather than stressed about getting through our gift list without forgetting anyone!
I focus on others
One of the most wonderful things about the holiday season is that there are literally thousands of ways to get involved in helping others. So many people do this on a regular basis, but others may not during the year for many reasons, including time and availability. If we’re having a tough time this Christmas, perhaps getting involved in a charity, or another avenue of helping others would be a good idea for you, and for the whole family! There have been countless studies showing the benefits, a sample of which you can read here, here, and here.
One of my favourite things we do every year, and we’ve done with a group of friends for over 30 years now, visit a local mental health group home to sing carols, and bring Santa and treats. Every year we gather with these folks, many of whom have been there for as long as we have, and we celebrate together. Mental health homes often aren’t the cheeriest of places, but for a couple of hours, it turns into a giant party, with singing, and lots of joy. Quite honestly, it’s one of the most joy-filled times for me over the holidays because what is a very simple thing for us to do, brings such great levels of joy to the residents. They look forward to it all year, and they tell us so when we’re there.
If you’re struggling through the holidays, I highly recommend taking some time to focus on others through volunteering. There are some great places to do this, including Food On The Corner, UGM, Covenant House Vancouver, Deltassist, Delta Hospice, and so many more local organizations. Or, grab some friends, and go around the neighbourhood singing carols. Or perhaps you want to buy a bunch of roses, stand on the street corner and hand them out to people, just because!
Farewell to 2018
I don’t know about you, but 2018 has been a whirlwind for me. I’ve even remarked to clients on numerous occasions, “Didn’t I just see you last week,” and it’s been a month. Time goes fast! I know that one thing I’ll be focusing on this Christmas is slowing down. Resting. Recuperating. Reflecting.
It’s so easy to just keep going, and staying busy, even if it’s not at work. I’d encourage you to pick up that book you’ve been meaning to read, write that letter that’s been on your desk for the past 6 months, get together with that friend who you’ve been trying to get together with for the past year and somehow, it’s just never worked out. Find opportunities to share with those closest to you just how special they are to you, and how much you value them. If you can do this, you’ll do far more for them than any present could, and for yourself.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you, from Meg and I, and the rest of the team at Alongside You. We are blessed to be a part of your lives, and we wish you nothing but the best of times to finish the year and to start the New Year.