It’s that time of year when decorations abound, holiday music is played, special foods are prepared, heaps of joy and best wishes are passed around fully, and mass consumerism saves the year—for our retailers. In this season of holiday cheer something weird seems to be happening to many of us.
You were fine yesterday. But you woke up this morning weighed down by the stress of all the things you normally have to do and all the additional holiday demands suddenly piled atop your To Do List. Like what? Like finding the perfect gifts for those special people in your life, gearing up to call the relatives you haven’t spoken to since last year, preparing for combat shopping at the mall, figuring out what you are going to wear to the party that doesn’t make you look fat – you know, stuff like that. Special occasions that are normally spread out over an entire year - like birthdays and anniversaries - are jammed into a few intense weeks. You are supposed to be happy. But instead you, in slow motion, fall into that deep, dark chasm called “depression”.
Part of the problem is that we have expectations that may be unrealistic – for ourselves and for others. We are told we are supposed to be happy during these holidays and when we aren’t, we feel even worse. Sometimes we expect people to act a certain way or say a certain thing and when they don’t, we have a difficult time not showing our disappointment. It’s as if we suffer from performance anxiety. And we fall a little faster and a little deeper…
Why Is That?
Most likely something bad happened. It could have happened in your past during the holidays – or it could have happened at any time but you think about it or are confronted by it this time of year. Maybe you recently split up with your love and are alone this holiday season. Or maybe you couldn’t wait to leave your home town for one reason or another and now you have to return for the holidays. Maybe you miss someone you were close to who passed away. Or maybe you did something at this time of year that you regret. Or maybe something was done to you or someone you are close to that hurt you deeply. No matter how hard you try, you can’t stop thinking about what that “it” is. So in order to cope with the stress and depression the holidays become an excuse to over-indulge and over-react and you:
a) drink too much
d) eat like there is no tomorrow
e) isolate yourself
f) avoid people and situations
g) ¬¬¬¬¬¬¬fill in this blank
h) all of the above and more
Onward and Upward
We can get stuck in the past – especially if it was a negative experience. In Time Perspective Therapy (TPT), we switch focus from Past Negatives to Past Positives by replacing painful memories with positive ones. We also focus on moderately enjoying ourselves in the NOW (selected Present Hedonism) and on a brighter Future. Here are some examples of TPT:
• Loss of a loved one - Instead of thinking about your loss, refocus on all the good times you had together; your gain in knowing your loved one is much greater than your loss.
• Drown Out Bad Past Memories – Whether it happened long ago or more recently, practice replacing bad memories with good ones. You do have good memories – even if the bad have temporarily overwhelmed the good. If it helps, string a series of small positive memories together like pearls or gems and think of them as a lovely necklace. This precious, one of a kind, piece of work belongs only to you.
• Expecting Too Much – Unrealistic expectations of others as well as situations can generate anxiety; and anxiety is fear of the Future, or Future Negative. It helps to realize you have little or no control over what others will say or do. But you do have control over yourself. So think before you speak, drink, eat or purchase stuff you don’t need. For instance, do you really have to make that regrettable comment on your friend’s choice of attire which might hurt his or her feelings? Or drink that third spiked eggnog which sends you over the legal limit? Or eat those extra pieces of Aunt Mildred’s incredibly delicious fudge - and wear them on your belly well into 2013? Or buy those special someone’s gizmos they won’t use, when what they would really appreciate are your heart felt, personally written cards?
When we stop and think about what we are doing and how we affect others, positively or negatively, and chose to act positively, we climb a little farther out of the depression chasm into a joy-full universe.
• Isolating and avoiding – These symptoms of depression cause us to miss out on good times and good people. When we isolate ourselves and avoid others, we tend to mull over the negative. Switch your focus from yourself to others and get out there! Be with people. Take the time to catch up with family and friends. In fact MAKE TIME for family, friends, fun (and love making). It is possible that exciting and important things have happened in their lives, and more than likely you’ll find that hearing how others are doing makes you feel better about your situation and lifts your spirits.
The Time Cure
When we are depressed, it’s easy to drop the ball, to lose track of time and those with whom we were once close to. We think no one understands us, or has a more difficult life than we do. In The Time Cure, you’ll find stories of people who have overcome tremendous past negatives and gone on to reconnect with loved ones, live productive lives and enjoy the holidays. How did they do this? By focusing on Past Positives instead of Past Negatives, becoming selected Present Hedonists—all the while creating and working towards their brighter Futures. You can be one of them! All it requires is a better balanced, more optimal perspective on Time in your life. You will enjoy his holiday more than ever once you do.
Illustrations by Sean Yannell
For more information on the effects of PTSD, see The Time Cure: Overcoming PTSD with the New Psychology of Time Perspective Therapy (Zimbardo, Sword & Sword, 2012, Wiley Publishing,) and for strategies to reduce stress and improve communication, visit www.timecure.com and www.lifehut.com.