Joy To The World?

I have long had a love, hate relationship with this time of year. You may remember this from my post last year right around this time about how to manage holiday stress. I love that this time of year often brings families together, sometimes travelling long distances to do so. I love that it brings local communities together to celebrate the holidays. What I truly love most is that I make a point of taking time off at this time of year to be with my family, particularly my wife and kids. What is even better is that they also have time off at this point in the year and we can be together. I often work fairly long hours, and between my schedule and my wife’s schedule, and the kids’ activities, it’s a challenge to get time each day to be a family. This is what I look forward to this time of year, with great anticipation. This is what brings me great joy at this time of year – being with my family.

What I haven’t put into words before, however, is my difficulty with taking time off over the holidays. With the type of work that I do, I know full well how many individuals, couples and families struggle this time of year. I also know that tragedy does not wait for holidays to pass because it’s not “a good time.” The past month seems to have had more than its’ fair share of tragedy. I’ve seen this personally, professionally, and in the news in our community. Friends have lost loved ones, family members are dealing with illnesses, clients are struggling. Although the common belief that suicide rates are higher over Christmas is not true, what is true is that for all of the joy of Christmas, there is a lot of pain and suffering to go along with it.

What do we do about the juxtaposition of joy and pain over the holidays? I believe that a lot of it comes down to perspective and what we choose to focus on. Even more, what it comes down to is acceptance. Dialectical Behaviour Therapy has a concept called radical acceptance, which is a very simple, yet very difficult concept to put into practice. What it means is that we have to be willing to accept that thing happen in life that we do not like. It does not mean that we have to agree with these things, like these things, or are even okay with these things being the way they are. What it does mean is that we have to accept that these things are indeed present in our lives, and it is what it is. What other choice to we have? If we fight against it, we will most likely become anxious, depressed, and stressed out.

I’ve been reflecting on what I need to accept this year in order to be able to leave the office for a week of holidays, enjoy Christmas with my family, and most importantly, be present when I am with them. Here are my three things and I hope they may be helpful in some way to you as well.

  1. Accept that in order to take care of others, I need to take care of myself.

    This time of year is difficult for many, and I often feel pulled to remain at the office this time of year. The reality is that with my clinical practice and the growth of Alongside You, there really is no good time to take a break. There will always be things to do, clients to see, and I will always be conflicted about taking time off. The truth of the matter is, we all need a break and I definitely need one at this point in the year. I often use the analogy of the oxygen mask in an airplane with my clients – they tell you to put your mask on first because if you don’t and you pass out, you won’t be able to help others. I need to take some of my own medicine on this one.

  2. Accept that this time of year will always be a mixture of joy and sorrow, and possibly some stress.

    I know that I will experience much joy over the next few weeks as I spend time with my family. I know that as I leave the office tonight and go to my kids’ school Christmas concert I will be filled with pride, overwhelmed by my love for my children, and enjoy every minute of it; in fact, I’m tearing up just as I write this. I know that my kids will look out into the crowd to find me, because it means so much to them that I am there, and am present.

    I also know that no matter how carefully we plan, how much we try not to do too much, there will always, always be things that mess up the calm. Part of the amazing thing about Christmas is how many awesome things are going on. I also know that I get overwhelmed by all of these awesome things if I am not careful. I know that I need to take time for myself, keep myself balanced, and yes, practice some of the mindfulness skills that I teach my clients and hound them about.

    Finally, I am all too aware that many of my clients, my friends, and my family will be struggling through this season. The pain of the loss of loved ones, lost jobs, ill health, and so many other things does not take a break because of Christmas. I know that they will need comfort, support, and love and while I will do my best to be these things for as many as I can, I have to trust that others in their lives will do the same.

  3. Accept that I must focus on the joy to endure the sorrow.

    Our brains are well trained to focus on the negative, and my brain is no different. It takes very little effort to notice, and remember the negative. It takes much more effort to do the same for the positive. This is not about denial, it is about intentionality. Dialectical Behaviour Therapy describes this as a validation of our situation – that is, being able to find the silver lining in any situation while not denying that the cloud we are surrounded by is indeed black. I am fortunate – this year, I feel very positive about life and the upcoming holidays. This has not always been the case, and I can identify with many who might be wondering how to find the silver lining in a black cloud.

    I am challenging myself, and I welcome you to join me in this, to be intentional about looking for the joy this Christmas. We don’t have to deny the pain or sorrow, but we can choose to focus on the positive. The truth is that no matter how black we may feel the cloud is, there is always something positive to be found – the elusive silver lining. If we can’t find joy this season, we may not be looking hard enough.

From all of us at Alongside You, we wish you a wonderful Christmas and rest of the holiday season. We are grateful to be a part of your lives and are privileged to work with you through the joys, and the sorrows. May your lives be filled with joy as we finish 2016 and we look forward to 2017.