Have yorself a Merry Little Christmas
Written by Gerlinda Smit, Counsellor and Coach in Centro Mar y Salud, December 2011
One question I always ask during counseling sessions is, what stops you achieving what you want? Sometimes a client knows the answer straight away, but more often clients respond to this question with loud sighs and somewhat desperate non verbal reactions. In my experience that often can be ascribed to the fact that people are very good in pointing out what or who is wrong in a certain situation, but find it more difficult to picture the same situation the way they would like it to be.
Christmas and stress?
Try it yourself. Think about a specific situation you experience as difficult and problematic. This can be anything, but maybe you immediately think about the upcoming Christmas days. Maybe you see yourself trying very hard and firm not to get agitated by the from your point of view- stupid remarks that your dear family make on the world crisis, politics or even with your Christmas meal you prepared with lots of care.
And you see yourself bursting (not literally) and make sharp remarks to your sister or brother so that you know that this Christmas too will not be happy and peaceful, thanks to you. Or maybe, thinking about Christmas, you immediately see yourself lying in bed for days with blinding headaches because you walked on eggshells during the festivities.
One other picture that can pop up, thinking about Christmas is the one in which you see yourself eating too much in spite of your intention not to because you want to lose weight, not gain; or you are afraid of spending the Christmas days alone, without your loved ones and fear the loneliness.
There are a lot of aspects about Christmas that cause stress. Different studies have shown that this is positive stress (spending time with friends and family, nice to give presents to one other) but also negative stress (too much to do in little time, disturbance of your daily routine, and the above described situations). So, it is not unusual that people look forward to Christmas with somewhat mixed feelings. Depending on earlier experiences, possibly you can only see the obligations that come along with Christmas and the negative stress.
Probably it wasnīt difficult to describe the present state of how you behave and feel in the problematic (Christmas) situation. Now, if you want to change things, it is essential to give your brain an impulse as to what direction it should think. If you only think of what you donīt want, this is probably all you will get.
So, how would you rather like to feel and act in the problematic situation? Depending on the type of sense you prefer, you can describe the desired state in words, or make a picture of it like a painter or photographer or even make a short movie of the situation as if you were the director. As I said, this is not always easy, because most grownups are not used fantasizing or imagining anymore. However, by making the picture and describing in words how you wish you would feel and act in the situation, what the desired state looks like, you give your brain direction and a purpose, like a kind of mind set. It will help you to focus more and also it will help you to determine what exactly you need to do (or not do) to realize the desired state. So, create a picture, imagine yourself in the desired state: i.e. how would you rather like to react, feel, think?
Good for you and good for others, good for now and good for later?
Once you have identified the desired state in your problematic situation, it gets interesting. What prevents you from achieving what you want? What resources do you need? What may come up in your mind, asking yourself these questions for example: a kind of feeling (more confident; more love; respect) or a kind of power/ability (be more tactful, be able to listen better) or some changes in the surroundings (feel fresh air, go out and walk, move instead of sitting still all days) or a kind of belief (I am good as I am, Itīs more important we spend time together than everything goes perfectly as planned).
Maybe you also realize that what you want to achieve is conflicting with other personal needs you have or with needs of others. Your desired state then may need some adjustments. For example, do not picture yourself reading in seclusion (because you are finally assertive and do your own thing) but see yourself taking a little walk before you join your family for Christmas dinner. In this way you combine your different needs (i.e. time for yourself and a good relationship with loved ones) with the needs of others. Thatīs usually the challenge and not only during Christmas I think.
So please imagine, take the time to picture your desired state. This is the first step in making it happen. This will help you to identify the resources you need and once you know what you need (e.g. other abilities, more knowledge, more positive thoughts about yourself); you can look for ways to change things within yourself. I wish everybody his desired Christmas!
Gerlinda Smit, counselor and coach