“It’s the holidays!” It’s funny how three words can evoke so many different reactions. Maybe you are an “Oh no! It’s too soon” kind of person. Or you might be more of the “I can hardly wait” type. Whatever your mindset, we all get repeated messages that the holidays are supposed to be a time of merriment and magic. Social media provides us with countless images of festive parties and family get-togethers while holiday movies set expectations of winter wonderlands and happy endings (I’m looking at you, Hallmark channel). Add to that the barrage of ads both online and in stores to entice us to spend more and more as we shop for gifts for family and friends. At this time of year, we all experience a range of emotions as we move through the gatherings, festivities, pressures, and traditions of the season. These anticipatory feelings and thoughts for the holidays are generated from our past experiences and are otherwise known as “scripts.” In fact, each one of us brings a different perception or “script” about what “the holidays” mean. And while that could be a good thing as we relive cherished traditions, it can also lead to feelings of sadness and dissatisfaction when life and situations don’t fulfill our script. So let me add just one more thing to your “to do” list at this time of year: accept that scripts can be modified and you can still find joy in the season.
How do we let go of scripts that no longer serve us, especially when some of them may have been written many years ago? One of the best ways is less about letting go entirely and more about being open to script modifications and new experiences. Life circumstances change. Children grow up. Friendships ebb and flow. Your traditions and scripts can evolve to accommodate these new situations. Rather than hanging on to an old tradition that isn’t relevant anymore, look for new opportunities to celebrate in a different way. Maybe the children are no longer interested in a visit to Santa but would love an ice skating outing or ski trip over the winter break?
In addition to changing the scripts, it’s also important to focus on the present moment and be mindful and intentional in your relationships. Enjoy being with your loved ones and approach the time together with a sense of appreciation and gratitude. Yes, this takes a little practice. It’s hard to turn off the internal dialogue that has us pointing out the shortcomings of our circumstances or worrying about the future but purposefully concentrating on enjoying the present, whatever it looks like, can be a refreshing change.
How to get started? Practice being mindful and in the moment by taking a minute or two in the morning before you step out of bed. Start with 3 slow, long breaths and then ask yourself, “What does it feel like for me to be at peace and in the moment?” Close your eyes and mentally scan your body and see if you can release any tension that you find. Don’t stop there though. Try it again later with your morning coffee or tea and practice using your senses to truly enjoy that cup of warmth. As negative thoughts or old anxiety-producing scripts creep into your day, push them out by refocusing on your senses. Ultimately, being more mindful in your daily activities and with your relationships can help minimize the impact of those scripts that are either negative or that provide you with expectations that are impossible to fulfill.
We all approach the holidays differently but there is joy to be found for all of us. Don’t let your scripts of the past steal your happiness in the present. Mindfulness allows us to enjoy the moment, be open to new opportunities and revise our holiday scripts to match our present circumstances. It may take a little practice but it’s worth the effort. Think of it as the holiday present you give yourself.
Dr. Melissa Scherzer, Psy.D. of Scherzer Clinical & Behavioral Psychology located at 129 Washington St., Morristown. (973)343-6610 or DrMScherzer@gmail.com
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