Ahh the holidays…as a mental health therapist, I appreciate how difficult this time of year is.
It’s important to recognize that there are steps you can take to shift your emotional experience during this season so that you experience an increased sense of worth and connection to self and the world.
This article offers tips to achieve that.
One factor that contributes to an erosion of our mood is the comparisons we make in relation to others.
The holidays tend to exacerbate this.
Whenever we do compare, we inevitably find ourselves in the “less than” position whether the category be familial, emotional, financial, romantic, etc.
It’s important to understand that there is a hormonal change in us when doing so.
Understanding how this works allows us to normalize our emotional responses and shift them so we can use our biology to work for us rather than against us (Breuning, L. 2016).
Foremost, we compare.
We just do and denying this is rejecting the reality of what it means to be human.
Accepting that comparisons are part of human nature frees up our time to effectively respond to comparisons that don’t serve us emotionally and socially.
Here’s how it works. Serotonin is our “happy” hormone but it’s more than that.
Mammals experience bursts of serotonin when feeling a sense of pride and social importance (Breuning, L. 2016).
What this means is that we will make ourselves feel better momentarily when we place ourselves in a superior position compared to another.
This however is an emotionally damaging way to feel good about who we are because putting down others to feel better about ourselves will evoke feelings of disconnection and in turn loneliness. That just doesn’t feel good.
Additionally, to continue to feel good this way we must keep doing it because it’s a burst of serotonin not a hose that’s turned on permanently. So, ultimately this strategy doesn’t serve us.
Also, we can ALWAYS find someone who we believe has more when we set about comparing ourselves to others.
When humans feel “less than” we feel threatened and produce cortisol, which is our stress hormone (Breuning, L. 2016).
Humans are the only species that can activate cortisol when there is not a true threat to its well-being but the perception of it.
What this means is our thinking can keep our survival hormones pumping through our bodies.
While we need this hormone in balance too much of it erodes our physical and emotional health leaving us feeling exhausted.
Ever feel worse about yourself after mindlessly scrolling on social media?
This is the likely culprit because as we know 99% of social media users present the shiny, polished version of their life that makes us feel like we’re not measuring up.
I’ve yet to see (or post myself) family arguments, the dirty dishes in the sink, and so on.
If people did this, we’d feel more alike because the reality of all of us includes messiness and disagreements.
So, what’s the answer? When you find yourself heading down the comparison rabbit hole, name it, ask yourself objectively whether it is serving you.
If you say yes, then there is something in your life that you want more of.
Someone has something that you desire and you’re feeling envy.
You can harness that envy to propel action by asking yourself what steps are needed to obtain whatever it is that you want.
Recognize that there are no steps that can be taken?
If this is objectively true, then we must accept the reality of what we don’t have and mourn it.
Remember that acceptance doesn’t mean giving up it means, “I recognize the reality of the situation”.
Often with acceptance comes mourning. Please give yourself permission to grieve what it is you do not/will not have.
If it feels too much to do alone, reach out to others whether it is a friend, family member, spiritual leader, or therapist.
If you find yourself comparing and it doesn’t serve you, objectively name that you’re doing it and shift to self-comparisons in an evaluative, non-judgmental way.
Notice your accomplishments and allow yourself to feel proud about them.
You’ll give yourself a burst of serotonin and dopamine (Breuning, L. 2016).
If you are frustrated with yourself because you are not where you would like to be in life, then you can harness that frustration to create a plan to get there.
Some folks feel untethered and unsure what that plan would be.
If you are feeling lost in this department (and I believe the reflective nature of the holidays can evoke this for many) rather than thinking of New Year Resolutions I invite you to use this time of year to reflect on whether you are living a life aligned with your values.
Use the new year as a demarcation of returning to living a life that reflect your core values.
For those unsure of what you value, ask yourself what you hold sacred (Shapiro, D. 2016). Examples can be travel, connection, physical activity, friends, gardening, etc.
Give good thought to this answer.
Once you can name them, write down a list of the behaviors you engage in that reflect these sacred values.
This list (or lack thereof) can help you learn areas of your life that you want to change.
The longer your list, the more you are living aligned with what brings you to life.
This alignment inevitably improves our sense of worth, meaning and purpose.
As you consider the ideas in this article, know this; you matter.
This season is temporary, and support exists.
Reach out when you need it. Make a point to connect to the world be it other people, nature, art, music; whatever it is that brings a feeling of unconditional connection.
Go outside at night and look at the sky knowing that you are part of the universe, and you belong here.
I wish you peace this holiday season and throughout the year.
Remember, the holidays can be a stressful time for many of us.
You’re not alone in it. But if you would like some more targeted support please feel free to reach out to us to book a complimentary 20-minute personalized matching consultation with our clinical intake coordinator to find the best clinical match for you.
Author: Andrea Parsons
Breuning, L. (2016). Habits of a Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin & Endorphins Levels. Adams Media.
Shapiro, D. (2016). Negotiating the Nonnegotiable. How to resolve your most emotionally charged conflicts. Viking.