Become a Scientist of Your Own Experience.
Now that November is quickly drawing to a close, it's getting harder and harder to ignore the fact that Christmas is well and truly on its merry way. However magical and exciting the festive season can be for a lot of people, it can also be a seriously challenging time to others.
Plenty of us know only too well that trailing right alongside all the fabulous festivity comes a significant splattering of stress, anxiety and loneliness. So much to do, so many people to face, a busy, crowded hubbub surrounds the day and as the countdown looms, some may be more inundated with dread than delight.
We don't need to take a look at the stats to know that some extra support at this time of year wouldn't go astray. So for the next few weeks on the blog, we're going to explore ways to provide this and challenge the various worries that crop up as Christmas approaches.
As with any challenge, we can of course overcome it. We can find a way to even enjoy it, look forward to it and genuinely make the most of it.
Personally, I prefer the word 'conquer' to 'cope' so this is the approach I want to take here. I want to encourage overcoming rather than just finding ways to get by or ways to avoid discomfort. Coping mechanisms can keep us stuck but conquering to me means taking the challenge head on and fighting the fear. Conquering is long lasting; it is strength and progression and means that we are winning, not just settling or avoiding. By conquering the challenges, we can cultivate new experiences of the same old things.
Different worries arise for different people in the run up to the big day. But regardless where the pressure is rising from, it can always be tackled.
I heard the phrase during the week to 'Become a scientist of your own experience'. So to kick off this little Christmas series, I want to ignite curiosity. We can't discover our own solutions without getting curious about what we're experiencing.
If we were to become scientists of our experience, how would we dissect our previous experiences of Christmas? Which bits could we experiment with to make them more effective for us? Is there different methods we could employ to get the results we actually want?
It's amazing how much certain special occasions can magnify our fears. The festive season is not really about food, or family, or shopping in excessive crowds or trying to act happy when you're really miserable - but when we're worrying about that aspect of it, that's the only part that we can see. The lights, the connection, and the joy fade away when the dark thoughts take over.
I get that we're not all about to fall into a Hallmark card of the perfect Christmas scene, but what we can do is create our own enjoyment around this time. We can identify what's bothering us and look for our own solutions. Action is the antidote to fear, so what actions can we take?
1. What is the most challenging part of the season ahead?
In general, in order to kick ass, we've got to know what we're up against. Square up to your opponent and figure out what it represents to you. Maybe it's the food fears, family tension, alcohol, social pressures, perfectionism, loneliness, anxiety. What is it that's giving stress strong enough legs to stomp its way through our minds? Become aware of the obstacles and turn them into stepping stones. Identify the fears and look directly at them. These are the challenges to conquer. When we zoom out a little and see them for what they actually are, they aren't as consuming. Sometimes they even stop making sense, the irrationality comes to the fore and we can find a way to dissolve their influence.
2. How would I like to deal with this challenge differently this year?
In the face of fears, we can tend to clutch on to old coping mechanisms that may not always produce particularly helpful results. Hiding away in isolation, trying to avoid the season, or engaging in self destructive behaviours may swoop in as the familiar go-to solutions but these never contribute to effective conquering. They actually just create more challenges in the long run. Every experience presents us with an opportunity for learning so think about what learnings can be taken from previous challenges. What has been helpful in the past and what has kind of screwed us over? What tools have we gained, what patterns of thinking might help, what ammunition have we got against these challenges? How realistic are these fears? We know the answers, we just need to awaken them again.
3. How would I like Christmas to be?
Your experience is in your hands to create, at any time of the year. If you don't want Christmas to be a stressful, overwhelming ordeal, then take control and make it into something else. Think about how you'd like it to play out, how you can influence the day and how you'd like to feel about it. Maybe you just want to watch your favourite movie, hear your favourite song, visit someone special, or buy yourself a gift. Let your mind wander into all that your Christmas could potentially be, not just what you're afraid it'll be. Free yourself of the pressure to fit into someone else's picture of Christmas. Give it a chance to be exactly how you want it, visualise the experience, step into it, get comfortable in that picture of Christmas and find the way to bring it to fruition.
4. What can I get out of this season?
Christmas is a great time for connection. There's an excited buzz about it, energy is high and there is definite merriment to be felt. There's opportunity to see family, friends, to get time off to yourself, to recharge and to look forward to the year ahead. We all have different things we can get out of it. But know that there is something for everyone. Maybe it's an ideal time for giving, for being charitable, even giving to ourselves, there's a chance now to consider what you want out of this season. Embrace the opportunity to reach out to people, give something back, treat yourself. Dream a little and enjoy what you come up with.
5. How can I support myself?
We can look around for support as much as we like but how often do we actually give it to ourselves? Yes reading things is helpful but we always need to apply what we take in. Learning to be your own support will only ever serve you well. Invest in supporting yourself this Christmas. Find out what you need and want in order to help yourself approach this season in a stronger place. Self care is crucial and self support stems from this. Nourish your needs and you'll be in a privileged position to conquer whatever comes your way. Be there for yourself, give yourself a chance and be patient, you can get through this if you've got your own back.
I love all things Christmas, yet for the years when I had an eating distress, it was a weighty pressure. With my mind tirelessly totting up caloric calculations and my brain fit to burst with guilt, shame and anxiety I didn't embrace the wonderful time of year that it is. When you don't want to be seen, it's hard to enjoy getting involved.
But there is always a solution. I now enjoy the bustle of town, although I know I don't like to be in it too much. I enjoy the cheesy tunes, the decorations, the time with people who are special to me. I love the lights, the chill in the air and the excitement that still surrounds the season. I like the bad Christmas cracker jokes and the dedication to a good game of Pictionary. I like catching up, getting cosy and recharging. I like the fact that it has so very little to do with food and stress, because I've conquered their influence on me.
Christmas time is what we make of it, what we choose to focus on and what we decide to let go of. Getting curious gives us the clues of what we could create. It allows a different picture to elbow its way in and show the fear who's boss.
So ask the questions and see what answers you can deliver for yourself this season.