Let’s hope your winter holidays were filled with joy, a sense of community and shared experiences. For many, however, the post-holiday season can feel like an unwelcome hangover — as we are left with hefty credit card bills, conflicts with family members, regrets from imbibing too much and extra pounds.
What if we were told to have a happy Chanukah, and we were without family and friends and felt isolation and grief instead of happiness? What if we have lost loved ones? Have an illness? Are financially strapped?
We can start to beat ourselves up and blame ourselves for circumstances that are out of our control and ask, “Why me?” — leading to unnecessary and unhealthy shame.
It is understandable that one would want to avoid these issues and the resulting negative feelings, but the wound can fester if left untreated. It is counterintuitive to go toward the pain, but therapies such as acceptance and commitment therapy and mindfulness allow one to take a bird’s-eye view to the problem, to step back, to observe and to not to judge oneself for shortcomings.
It is best to approach those things we fear unless we are, in fact, to see a ferocious tiger charging toward us or a car about to smash into us. At that point, thinking and observing would be foolish; quickly fleeing or pounding the brakes would be the wise thing to do. Luckily, our reptilian brains allow us to appropriately respond in milliseconds.
In this day and age, however, financial hardships, relationship conflicts and hurt feelings feel like the world is about to end. Negative thoughts arise: “What’s wrong with me? Why does this always happen to me? I am such a failure.” They persist as we continually focus on the negatives.
Given that these threats will not kill you, even though our flight-fight-freeze response kicks in and we feel as if we are going to die, it is best to accept our emotions, feel them, make space for them, treat them as a friend instead of an enemy, be curious about them, and do as Marsha Linehan from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy recommends and “act opposite to your urges.”
For instance, if you are feeling shame and your urge is to hide, it is best to share your shameful feeling with a trusted friend or family member to reduce shame. You will see that you are accepted for who you are despite your weaknesses, untoward behavior and/or negative circumstances.
If you are afraid to speak in public because you fear being humiliated and have an urge to flee, it is best to remain and do your best to deliver your speech. It sounds dreadful at first, but the anxiety will eventually subside, and you are more likely to be left with a feeling of accomplishment.
Furthermore, challenge the negative thoughts, such as “I am a failure,” by asking, for instance, “What has gone right? When have I succeeded? What are the facts of the situation?” instead of assuming a worst-case scenario.
Besides feeling and leaning into your emotions and challenging negative thoughts, having compassion for yourself and circumstances has been proved by Kristen Neff to reduce depression and anxiety and increase self-confidence.
The concept of self-compassion researched by Neff encourages others to see that our emotional pain is part of the human experience, and we can respond to “human imperfection with kindness and care” instead of “judgment and criticism.”
Neff recommends three steps to foster self-compassion: State your feelings without judgment with words such as “I feel sad because”; identify how your “experience is connected to the larger human experience” and the circumstances leading to your reaction; and use kind, understanding words with a soft nurturing tone of voice toward yourself. For instance, “You poor dear, that was a difficult night for you; it is understandable you felt sad when your feelings were not considered.”
Now you will be all set when you feel like growling at the next person who says, “Happy Pesach!”
Just remember to breathe, accept reality, make space for your pain, challenge those negative thoughts, find a healthy outlet (such as movement) to release your emotions and show kindness toward your suffering.
Lastly, remember you are not alone in your pain.
or individuals and families struggling with addiction and mental health illness, The Berman Center’s Intensive Outpatient Program (www.bermancenteratl.com) is the treatment, recovery and personal advancement center that helps people move from existing to living through an individualized, spiritually holistic approach, best-in-class clinical excellence, and exceptional post-treatment community integration programs. Finding hope, igniting purpose. For more information on how to approach the above types of situations or answers to your questions related to mental illness and addiction, call The Berman Center at 770-336-7444, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.