The Mindful Self-Express

The mind-body experiment.

The Top Three Valentine's Day Pitfalls

How to withstand all the pressure and hype.

Temptations all around

Valentine's Day is here, a day to take time out to appreciate the people we love, and to celebrate having love in our lives. Stores are filled with racks of beautifully illustrated cards, delicious Godiva truffles in their sparkling gold boxes, red roses, and crystal champagne glasses. Restaurants offer the finest of lovers'  fare, and spas roll out their best massage and pedicure specials. CVS has rows of candy and toys on display, and Target offers matching plates, glasses, ornaments, window decorations, all adorned with those beautiful pink and red hearts. There are even heart-shaped toys for dogs and cats! Yet amidst all this color and celebration, there are also some hidden traps and pitfalls to avoid. Below, I discuss these and offer coping strategies

(1) The Food Trap  This is a special time, with rich, chocolatey food and bubbly, fizzy drinks, so eat something special or taste a few favorites, but do some anticipatory planning. Tthink about your choices and food goals before you get into the tempting situation. Regardless of whether you're going out with friends, on a special date, or are home alone watching tv, food temptations will shout out at you. Once you're sitting at the restaurant table or on your couch with the ads playing, it is extremely hard  to resist temptation if you haven't mentally prepared yourself. Practice positive self-talk, reminding yourself of the importance of making healthy choices, why you want to stay slim or lose weight, and your ability to stick with your food plan. Give yourself permission to enjoy some good quality food with pleasure without feeling guilty or ashamed. Both avoiding excessive eating and enjoying the food you do eat are part of healthy, mindful self-care. 

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(2) The Shopping Trap  This time of year, retailers offer both deep discounts on sale items and cutesy, cosy valentine's clothing. Sleepwear and kids sparkly outfits are a particular temptation. In all of this sensory stimulation, its easy to get carried away and exceed your budget, potentially leading to debt that will take the next year to pay off. Advertisers and stores know how to pull the emotional strings to get the pursestrings to open. They display idealized images of romance, friendship, and fun, and celebration. In reality, not everybody is in a loving relationship or has a bunch of girlfriends and resources to go out partying. We may have to settle for watching Sex in the City reruns and celebrating with virtual girlfriends.

There are many types of households out there, single by choice or circumstance, gay and lesbian, grandparent-led, bereaved, recently divorced. Some of you may be recovering from a recent loss or breakup. Some may be working through the holiday. It's important to look at your own life realistically without comparing it to a commercially-created ideal. If your Valentine's Day wouldn't meet Carrie Bradshaw's standards and your relationship isn't Gone with the Wind or Casablanca material, don't feel bad. Don't buy things you don't need or too many gifts because you're trying to create a fantasy world. Make the most of the life you have, even if it doesn't contain Juicy Couture or Sprinkles cupcakes. Buy or make some special cards and gifts you can afford. Cook a special meal or bake a special cake if you have the time. And if not, do what is realistic for you. And wake up the next day without having depleted your cash and energy.

Hearts & Flowers for Some, Feelings of Inadequacy for Others

(3) The Comparison Trap  Another common holiday pitfall results from a wandering and judging mind. In mindfulness terms, we sometimes refer to this as "big deal mind." This happens when your mind makes a big deal over some goal or outcome and uses this as an assessment of your ultimate success or worth as a human being. Your mind then starts comparing your life to those of other people with more money, bigger houses, or larger families and decides that you fall short. Around this time of year, there is so much extra pressure on single people to be in a relationship. Married people may wish their relationships were happier and more romantic. Others wish they had more money and could afford some of the luxury goodies on display.. You may start feeling unworthy because your Valentine's Day  celebration doesn't measure up, because you don't have a big friendship network, or because you're not a master chef and baker, or because you're alone. The holidays are therefore a great time to develop a mindful attitude. Try to observe your thoughts as they wander, withhold judgment, and bring your attention back to your immediate present and sensory experience. Be aware of your wishes and wants, but don't let feelings of inferiority determine your actions. Think about your values and the things in life that are most important to you. Use these values to guide your decisions and efforts. Efforts are controllable while outcomes may not be. Try to develop compassion for yourself and a feeling of connection with all living things, rather than competition. We are all part of a larger universe and if we seek to contribute with an open heart, rather than compete and compare, we can make an important difference to our world. And that is the real spirit of Valentine's Day.

Copyright by Melanie A Greenberg, Ph.D. http://melaniegreenbergphd.com/marin-psychologist/.

Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D., studies the health effects of expressive writing, cognitive adaptation to trauma, the genesis and treatment of chronic pain, among other coping issues.

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