Conquering Holiday Anxiety

by Fred

Anxiety often stains the mood that we expect to feel around the holiday season. I might spend a week or two before Thanksgiving feeling happy about the approaching holiday. Then when the fateful Thursday arrives, I might become tense, upset, and anxious. How can this be? I’m the producer of how2feel.com? How can I help others feel better if I am getting upset about the holidays?

Well, you can’t teach someone to ride a horse if you don’t ride. I’ve rid this rocky trail many years, now, and it never smooths out. That’s not my fault. However, it is my fault if I don’t know how to handle it by now. I actually look forward to the pitfalls of the holidays just as I look forward to a sparring match. I know I’m going to learn something that will make me more powerful.

I’m going to do two things in this Update. First, I will explain the source of holiday anxiety. Second, I will explain a technique for handling the anxiety.

First, what is anxiety? It is the innate response to an internal threat. Remember, fear is the innate response to an external threat; anxiety is the innate response to an internal threat. Remember also, that innate responses are often quite useless when dealing with any threat because the innate response bypasses your thinking process. If you want to control your feelings with your conscious mind, you must resist the innate response.

Where does holiday anxiety come from? Of course it can come from bad memories. But what about anxiety that comes from good memories? Look, it happens! You smell something. You hear a phrase on television. You see a snapshot with your favorite jacket. You feel tears coming up, and you don’t want to feel them. Here comes the anxiety.

But why? Your body and brain are not really designed to live with all that memory, all those moments, crammed into one. Each ordinary moment is quite full of mental energy in itself. Holiday moments are overloaded with the mental energy of the entire world focusing on them. Once you begin to stack each year upon year, it doesn’t take long for the overload of moments to break you down. Holiday anxiety is the first wave of that overload. Eventually, the overload becomes full-blown depression.

So, what do you do? You can’t wish the problem to disappear. That’s just another problem.

So, what do you do? Resist the innate response. Do not allow anxiety to be your response to the downpour of moments and memories.

How do you do that? To some degree or other you must live in the present moment as much as possible. The present moment is the most important moment that ever existed. If you happen to experience a past moment that makes you anxious, you must reset that past moment in the context of the present. The next paragraph describes how to do that.

Go into a Basic Meditation. Once you have reached a state of relaxation, hold each hand out palm up. Rest the backs of your hands on the arms of the chair or on your knees. In one hand, mentally allow past holiday moments to begin piling up. The green dress your mother made. The football with real stitching. The aroma of your aunt’s stuffing. The big fight. Allow these things to accumulate. In your other hand, consciously and mentally pile up all of your strengths in this moment. I am older now. I am wiser. I have grown. I have matured. I am good at my job. People count on me. I am dependable. In every moment, I am improving myself and the world around me. Once you have accumulated a handful in each hand, mentally look at the pile of moments in your right hand. Now, mentally look at the pile of moments in your left hand. Look back to your right hand. Look back to your left hand. Now right. Now left. Now right. Now left. Repeat the back and forth ten times or so. Stop. Slowly raise your hands and press both piles together. This mixes your positive strengths in with the anxiety-causing moments of your past. Press the piles together until your hands touch. Mentally, wad this pile into a small pebble. You have now informed those past moments that a new moment is in charge of them. They are not allowed to cause anxiety because they are subordinate to all future moments. And you are in charge.

Repeat this technique daily during the holidays.

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