Battling Christmas Letdown

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This is the first year that I haven’t really struggled with what I call “Christmas letdown.” There’s a huge build-up to Christmas: decorating, cooking, music, advertisements, movies, etc. It’s easy to get caught up in the need for Christmas to be amazingly special — especially if you are codependent.

Christmas can be a nightmare as things don’t go perfectly, as that “special feeling” gets swallowed up in stress and anxiety. Kids misbehave (usually at the family get together, so that you just “know” that all of your in-laws are talking about you behind your back). Presents don’t endear you to people like you hoped they would. You just can’t create that perfect “Hallmark Christmas.” You feel like you’re the only one who isn’t happy, the only one who is struggling just to get through the season.

How can you make the craziness stop?

  1. Breathe: I’m being serious. As you feel your sense of crazy overloading, use that as your trigger to stop for a few moments and focus on your breathing. Take in long, nourishing breaths through your nose and feel the air fill the deepest reaches of your lungs. Let the air flow out of your lungs. Really feel the goodness enter your body with each breath. You’re triggering things that are hardwired into your brain to help you reduce your stress.
  2. Be here, now: Last year is over. Nothing will change it. This year is all we have. Enjoy it for exactly what it is. There is good in every moment if we have the eyes to see it!
  3. Connect, instead of perfect: Unpacking the boxes of decorations and trimming the trees was a bittersweet time for me. It had nothing to do with the baubles I was actually holding in my hands, it was about the memories. A perfect Christmas doesn’t bring people together. People are brought together as we open our hearts and reach out to them. Look for ways to spend time with others.
  4. Search for the good: Christmas is one of the few holidays that still lingers after it has officially come and gone. Look for little ways that you can find the good in each day, smile at someone, do a little extra something for someone each day.
  5. Focus on the memories: Presents will break and wear out, family and friends will go home and return to their own lives. Memories are what we can keep. If things don’t go according to plan, laugh and help everyone have a good memory to keep.
  6. Acknowledge that you’re not alone: Christmas letdown is actually very common. You may feel like you are the only one, but you are not. If you’re faking a smile, you’re probably in good company.

I hope that you have already had lots of reasons to truly celebrate already this year and that tomorrow is a day filled with beautiful memories.

 

Merry Christmas!

 

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Why Thanksgiving?

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In about five days, the United States will celebrate Thanksgiving Day. In recent years, we seem to collectively become awkward with this holiday:

  • Five-ish years ago, retail stores began pushing Christmas sales right after Halloween to raise profits. This year, it appears that an increasing number of people have followed the trend and put up their Christmas decorations as soon as they removed the ones from Halloween.
  • Most of us now have to admit that our forefathers’ attitude of superiority and conquest causes us some measure of discomfort. While the Pilgrims opened a new era for Anglo-Saxons and America has been a great place to live and a game-changer for the world, this same series of events precipitated the decimation of thousands of unique cultures through the spread of disease, war, and brute force. From our cultural perspective, it looks like an overgrown case of “finders-keepers, and it doesn’t sit well in our psyches.
  • America’s current rhetorical about immigrants — legal and illegal — can be offensive to those in our country who are not of Anglo-Saxon descent. There is little in the holiday for people of other cultural heritages to connect to.
  • The traditional stories are actually wrong. The Peanuts movie is great for touchy-feelies, but it perpetuates myths about what really happened and why. These same myths have been perpetuated in schools throughout the nation for decades. (After doing a little historical research, I have sometimes found myself referring to the harvest festival as the first drunken redneck party in America.)

 

Since the Thanksgiving holiday is so politically charged and drags so much baggage with it, why bother to celebrate?

Here are my reasons to celebrate Thanksgiving:

  1. No matter how dysfunctional we may think our family is, they are our family. We have blood and common life experiences that tie us together. Even the most reclusive human is wired for some connectedness. Without a sense of connection, mental health suffers. We need each other, no matter how much we manage to irritate each other.
  2. Traditions connect us to our collective past and are passed down to future generations. Traditions create a sense of security and help us define where we fit. Traditions ground us and stabilize us.
  3. If we decide to leave all of the negativity and baggage surrounding the holiday alone for one day, setting at least one day a year aside to be grateful for all of the good that surrounds us is a beautiful thing. We pick and choose our focus, and our focus determines what occupies our mental and emotional energy. We can actually reduce the draining effect of negativity in our lives through practicing gratitude and appreciation. (Sure, the bad things are still there, but they don’t look nearly as bad.)

Do you have a Thanksgiving tradition or gratitude routine or habit that is special to you? Share in the comments!

Does it Really Take a Disaster?

volunteersThis may be the one part of human nature that baffles me the most, even though I have many instances of the same thinking and behavior running throughout my life.

Until Harvey, and now with Irma and Maria, wildfires in the western US, an earthquake in Mexico, and other major disasters that I am probably overlooking my news feed had been completely dominated by politicians calling each other names, riots based on race, and debates on every possible position that someone can take.

It’s like we are wired to thrive on this idea of “us” and “them.” The mentality is an ever-present theme throughout human history. When the Europeans overran the American continent, the Native Americans were branded as savages and treated as being far less than human. Very few people in that day took the time to get to know their neighbors who were so different from them. They were different, they were to be shunned, and wars broke out between “us” and them.” It makes me very hesitant to ever celebrate cultural progress.

Enter the natural disasters.

Suddenly, we forget that we have been calling each other names and trying to find ways to use the government to put the other side in its place. We stop rioting and threatening. Suddenly, there are real people — not all that different from you and me — whose lives have been destroyed. Real people with whom I have a connection need help. It’s like we are collectively pulled up short by the cliche “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

We roll up our sleeves and work side-by-side with people that we were disparaging just weeks before. We do our good deeds, go home talking about how awesome the experience was and how we need to be more like this every day, and then return to our former pursuits of bashing those who don’t fit our personal definition of acceptability.

What is it about us humans that we can be so blind to our failings? Why is it so easy to turn people who hold other views into objects to be destroyed? Why is it so scary to sit down and have rational discussions? Why aren’t we trying to at least get a glimpse of other points of view to see what validity is there?

When those few American settlers bothered to understand Native American culture and traditions, they didn’t necessarily embrace this lifestyle that was so new and foreign to them, but they did find much that was good in these people who were so different from themselves. They found families and traditions and knowledge. They found real people.

So, is there anything stopping you from listening, considering, and responding rationally?

Four Steps to Positive Leadership

shutterstock_322225793Yes, “leadership” is a buzzword, but I think we have so many confusing voices trying to explain what it is that no one really understands what it is. I have decided to add to the confusion — only because I think I can actually help.

My husband has told me of a manager at his company whose philosophy is that I won’t ask you to do anything that I’m not doing. Oops! This slight twist on the saying is crippling. Employees sit around waiting to be delegated work, the manager is too busy to manage, and the division of his company isn’t necessarily as effective as it could be. Imagine the CEO trying to pitch in with everything from janitorial services on up the company chain!

I worked under a boss once who was simply blind to the inconsistencies in what she practiced as compared to what she preached. In staff meetings, it was about taking small steps in implementing positive change, servant leadership, and other jargon. In practice, if you did not perform to the standards she set for you, you were placed on her discard list — and often found your performance evaluation scores manipulated to make you believe that your job was in jeopardy.

True leadership is about building members of a team. It is about seeing yourself as a mentor and creating collaborative plans to build strengths and strengthen weaknesses. It is about everyone having the opportunity to grow and become the best version of themselves.

I don’t think that it’s a hard or unrealistic as it sounds, and I think it works in businesses, in families, and in any situation where people are trying to work together.

  1. Involve others in a challenge. Instead of the dreaded “You’re failing and here’s the plan to fix it” speech, present a problem to be solved. Have a brainstorming session, searching for reasonable solutions. Refuse to allow anyone to try to throw blame around — keep things focused on creating a solution. Encourage the team to create a personal action plan right then and there, even if it’s simply a couple of sentences. Drop by offices and check in on progress.
  2. Be sure to have confidence in your people. As you check on progress, be sure that each person knows you are only there to offer help if it’s needed. Let each person contribute in their own, unique way. Often, you find that their way is as good or better than your own!
  3. Give honest feedback. Sure, you want to be as kind and positive as possible, but you may have to let someone know they fell short of expectations. Listen to explanations, and work through excuses together. Offer your assistance, if possible.
  4. Give full credit. Even if you helped and supported along the way, let others have the credit for their hard work. Sure, you’re the leader, but a leader accomplishes very little without the hard work of the people he or she is leading! Give the credit, and don’t worry so much about your accolades — your abilities will be noticed, too.

In the Moment

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Before I begin, I want to be sure that it is VERY clear that I love my husband dearly, and that the purpose of this post is NOT to put him down. It’s a chance for me to “model” what I try to do when life lets me down.

The Backstory

In May, I made a major career change that has left me with a lot of uncertainties and insecurites. Lately, things have been coming to a bit of a head, and I find myself having trouble sleeping. My husband and I were talking about it, and he asked how he could help. I have learned enough in my life to know two things:

  1. When a man offers to help, he usually wants to help.
  2. If I’m not specific, he won’t get the message.

It’s just the difference between men and women.

So, I told him that I really could use help cleaning the house and getting some chicken put up that’s been waiting for me to repackage it for a couple of days. There. Clear, concise — exactly what a man needs.

We both knew when he asked this question that he had to work this weekend, but it was a couple of hours before he was going to have to get started. So, I assumed that he was going to buckle down and tear through the house. He moved one load of laundry around, sat down, and watched YouTube until it was time for him to log in from home.

My Reaction

I don’t think it’s dawned on my husband yet — he’s pretty distracted with his work project right now. I’m kind of hurt. I feel like he implied a promise and then broke it.

On the other hand, he works hard (as do I) and we both know that he needs more down time than I do, and that his down time needs to feel like play. (I prefer moving on to another project.)

Fortunately, I recoginized I had a choice, or I would have gone with my kneejerk reaction to cry, raise my voice, and let him know how disappointed and frustrated I am — after all, we had just discussed how stressed out I am, I told him how he could help, and he failed.

Since I didn’t take choice number 1, I have avoided a fight (at least for now).

Future Choices

I would love to say that I know I can keep my mouth shut and let it fester, keep my mouth shut and shrug it off, or talk to him about it when he’s not so busy and distracted — and that I choose to just shrug it off. In the end, it’s not a big deal, and I always seem to get the most important stuff done, anyway. Then, I can observe to see if things really are out of balance in our relationship and in our home duties, and have a rational discussion if it’s needed.

Unfortunately, I prove all the time exactly how human I am. I may not be able to let it go. Because I have been in abusive relationships and because of other experiences in my life, feeling like other people are dumping on me is a BIG DEAL. If I try to “just not say anything,” it may just fester and blow up later.

My Real Choice

Because I want to learn how to shrug the inconsequential stuff off, I’m going to try to let it go. But, being aware of my weaknesses, I’m going to monitor myself. If it turns out I can’t let it go, then I will talk to him later this evening or sometime tomorrow when it’s more appropriate so that we’re both aware of what’s been bopping around inside my head.

Because I’ve married an amazing man, I expect that if I approach him with some respect, I’ll receive respect in return, and we’ll work things out.

No, it won’t be the end of all of our problems and glitches in our marriage. But, it will still be a great marriage. In fact, one of the best indicators of a good marriage is the maturity level of both spouses. Total lack of conflict is a danger sign.

Keeping Sidewalks Clean

SidewalkBlock2As I runner, I have a love-hate relationship with sidewalks. When they aren’t all broken up because they haven’t been properly maintained or cluttered with trash and yard debris (often looking just about like the picture I put at the beginning of this post), they are the safest place for me to run in my little suburb. Since I don’t want to be a danger to myself or others, I try to use the sidewalks.

However, there seem to be some people who live in houses on my regular route who are oblivious to the idea of pedestrians. They trim the yard and prune the trees — and leave the mess right in the middle of the sidewalk, making it impassable. I’m always looking ahead to see where I need to step back out into the road and trying to judge if it’s safer just to run on the street facing into oncoming traffic.

Even more fun is when I’ve made the decision that the street is actually safer, and I have drivers try to run me off the road to “prove” that I should be on the sidewalk.

I’ve been in a highly reflective mood lately, and so I saw an object lesson in all of this: In what ways in life am I like clueless residents who clutter their sidewalks, and in what ways am I like the drivers who will endanger my safety to prove a point?

Cluttering Sidewalks

I think this boils down to habits and patterns that may seem normal to me, but make life harder on others. As a parent, it could be trying to hard to “make” my child behave perfectly, achieve good grades, or reach some other standard that I have set for them. As a friend, it could be venting to a friend and letting it turn into gossip rather than an attempt to get my head on straight. Anything that I do that could encourage someone else to live down to the lower common denominators of society is blocking their sidewalks as they journey to become their best selves.

Driving Rashly

Rude drivers have judged me to be infringing on their rights and priveleges, to be acting out of bounds, and to be unaware of my “place” and my surroundings. How many times have I, secretly or openly, judged another person because their choices and actions look unintelligent to me? How many times should I have given the benefit of the doubt when I did not? How many times have I told people what they should do without understanding where they are coming from or what they are trying to accomplish? That makes me figuratively just like a rude driver.

Perfection

I’m not writing this to suggest that anyone can get through life without receiving and giving a few bumps and bruises. No matter how good our intentions, “pobody’s nerfect,” as a college professor used to regularly remind me.

I think, instead, that the best I (or anyone else) can do is to try to be aware of the effect that I am having on others and do my best to make those encounters as uplifting and positive as possible.

If You’re Still Angry

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I’m not so certain that I would call this a “cute relationship,” but the rest of the idea suits my thoughts just fine. It illustrates a point of human nature that really should be pondered by each person.

You see, it really is true that, if you are still angry, you’re not over it. 

For me, that’s a harsh reality. It means I still haven’t fully made peace with the wreckage that I called my first marriage. I still have hurts that need to be healed from the choices that someone made three or four years ago that ended up tearing up a large portion of my heart and mind as “collateral damage.” It also means that I still have to come to grips with how a boss handled a “situation” with me.

It’s not so much that I spend a lot of time thinking about any of these people and events, nor am I really all that mad anymore. I just feel irritation and disappointment when memories pop up out of nowhere or I am in close range of the person in question.

As I’ve stopped to wonder why and to see if I can do anything more to leave the past buried in the past, here’s what I’ve personally found:

I still feel like justice hasn’t fully been served. — In those times when I feel the hurt trying well up inside of me again, I can tell it’s because I feel that things were so unfair (and they were, to a large degree), and that I never fully was repaid by justice. If I were to allow myself to continue the thought patterns, I would begin to thirst for revenge.

Thankfully, I have learned that justice is served more often that I think. Because I have tried to find healthy ways to deal with hurts and set backs in my life and because I have tried to spend my time in positive pursuits, I have gained a lot of understanding of humanity. I have become bolder, more confident, and yet a bit kinder and more empathetic than I used to be. I have been repaid with the currency of personal growth. Would I really then give that priceless benefit away for revenge?

The thirst for “justice” stems from a sense that I am not considered valuable by others. — There are two sides to this. The first is that this is an easy attitude to project onto others. We notice what we want to notice. If I have doubts about my value, then I’m going to see the evidence that others doubt my value as well — simply because I’m human and I’m hardwired to collect evidence that I’m right in how I see the world. Most people do see me as someone with value.

On the other hand, there probably are people who think that I am less than they are. When I am rational about it, I know that their opinion has no real effect on my personal value. Living by a decent code of ethics, increasing my knowledge, and reaching out to improve people and places that I can makes me valuable regardless of public (or private) opinion.

 

Maybe, as I reprogram my bran, I’ll be able to finally let this old baggage go and embrace the promise of each new day!