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AreYou Stuck in a Christmas Goldfish Bowl?

Author: null null Published: 18th December 2012 22:15

GoldfishIt is astonishing how the Christmas season seems to magnify and amplify whatever is going on in our lives. Do you ever feel like a goldfish swimming round and round, stuck in a bowl?

The media is full of images about happy family celebrations, Christmas parties, all the expensive things we really need to upgrade our lifestyles or make sure we smell nice, all the TV programmes we'll be looking forward to as we sit stuffed and comatose in our living rooms. The modern vision of Christmas is a commercial paradise of happy families celebrating their consumer dreams - the economy depends on it no less!

Of course for most of us, to be honest, Christmas is nothing like any of this. If we're fortunate, we do get to spend time with close family or friends and enjoy ourselves. You may still have children around under 10 who love the excitement and the magical side of Christmas. You might dig deep and find a spiritual and/or community way to celebrate with others.

I must admit over the years, I've had many different types of Christmas. I've been bored, depressed, stressed, and downright miserable. Sometimes I've really had a great time!

One of my favourite Christmas Days was when my children were both still under 10 - I bought Christmas dinner ready meals from Marks & Spencer and we spent the whole day playing with their presents.

If life is challenging, for whatever reason, then Christmas can really magnify your feelings about this too. This time of year can raise feelings of grief, sadness and loss because of past memories. It can remind us of old arguments leading to family separations, broken relationships. Reconstituted families struggle to meet everyone's needs. Connections may be lost or rediscovered. Maybe this is your last Christmas with a loved one who's terminally ill?

You may be worried about redundancy or a contract ending. So in the midst of the spending frenzy that is Christmas, the stress and anxiety around possible loss of income can be overwhelming. Or it could be you're constantly struggling to make ends meet, and Christmas just rams home the disappointment and sense of failure.

I remember one year when my husband was told just a week before Christmas that he'd be losing his job!

So if Christmas magnifies and amplifies how we experience life all year round, it goes without saying that if you've been anxious, stressed or depressed, this could well get a whole lot worse during the festive season, and you'll be fearful of that happening. And the more we worry about things going wrong, the more likely it is to end up feeling that they are!

Now imagine that rather than a goldfish, you're a tadpole swimming round and round the bowl. One day, all of a sudden, you turn into a frog, jump out of the goldfish bowl and head off to find a nice pond somewhere. The way you experience the world is completely transformed!

I'm not suggesting that you literally move, but I would like to make three suggestions which can help you step out of the goldfish bowl and deal with the festive season with a calmer and more balanced perspective. Good mental health (just like good physical health) depends on building up good habits, and you can do this in an incredibly short time with regular practice. They say it takes three weeks to change a habit, so why not start today?

Here are three exercises to do each day for the next three weeks -

1. Be thankful and appreciate what you've got - challenge all those amplified feelings of ‘lack' by writing down 5 things you appreciate every day.

2. Be kind - who can you help out at Christmas, even in a small way? Watch out for others who might be struggling for whatever reason, and perform an act of kindness every day.

3. Take 10 minutes each day to stop and breathe, and exercise your five senses. Yes you'll need to look, listen, touch, taste and smell what's happening around you. This is the way to focus on what's called the ‘present moment', and change the habit of ‘mental time travel' which keeps our mind busy with regrets and worries.

These exercises are simple but they're not easy. It's hard to change the habits of a lifetime, so you really do have to want to leap out of that goldfish bowl, and you have to stay determined and motivated to keep going.

If you feel like you could do with some extra support - and we all need that from time to time - then remember that in January I'm holding the first of a series of low cost workshops at the Oasis Wellness Centre, Queen Alexandra Hospital - Attention or Autopilot in Our Daily Lives.

Click here to find out more about Attention or Autopilot in Our Daily Lives

Here's wishing you all the best for Christmas and the New Year, or however you choose to celebrate thisChristmas tree festive season.

Click here to find your seasonal gift  -  a guide to The Seven Habits of Mentally Healthy People


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