November is upon us and with it comes the stream of holidays. I’ve already seen Christmas decorations up and Thanksgiving hasn’t even come and passed. The holidays swings everyone into a rush of conflicting emotions, joy, love and for many stress and depression. The holiday season is a reminder of what we have to be thankful for, connection to our family and for those in grief a reminder of what and whom we’ve lost. It’s no coincidence that this time of year has the highest suicide rate. It’s not so much the cold, gray weather but more so the loneliness and grief so many feel during the festivities all around them. It’s a time that so many feel even lonelier amongst the chaos and bustling surrounding them.
The holidays also tend to create more stress in relationships. With the pressure of family get togethers, added cooking, and buying gifts, couples that otherwise have healthy relationships can find themselves at each others throats. Many separations take place during this time. The cracks in the relationship cause small stresses to spiral out of control.
What can you do to ensure you and your loved ones enjoy a truly happy and Thankful season?
I once saw a talk that Tony Robbins gave on the day of the September 11th attacks. It was during a conference he was leading in Hawaii and he first thought of cancelling the seminar, but then decided to use the trauma as a learning experience for all.
One of the first things he began with was making the audience aware that whatever emotions they were feeling were their “go to” emotions. If they were angry because of the attacks they got angry at every chance in other areas of their life as well. If they were grief stricken and sad then those same people found reasons to be sad before any other emotions emerged. The people who felt guilty also felt guilty before the attacks and so on. In other words the attacks were just another reason to get sad, angry, afraid and so on. Your primary emotion is something you feel whenever something happens in life. There’s a reason this happens. It’s to fill a need, whether it’s significance, certainty, or love and connection.
Understanding your “go to” emotions will help you see how you deal with stress. It will also tell you which need is your primary need and what vehicles you use to acquire it. If you experience anger before sadness. You seek out significance and certainty in life above all else. If you get sad first then love and connection is your primary need. This does not mean the needs you choose to experience are your chore needs. They are just the ones you are acting on at the moment.
When stressful events happens in life, the desire to get your primary needs met becomes more intense. If you’re highest need is certainty and you’re going through a divorce you might work harder, eat out less, and fight tooth and nail with your ex to ensure the same style of life you lived when together.
If your highest need is love and connection and you are going through a divorce you might seek out peaceful resolution or start a war with your ex. You might seek out old friends or create new ones.
We all have productive and destructive ways of meeting our needs, but when going through stress many of us turn to a more destructive way of getting the job done. Our emotions take over and we will do anything we can to ensure our needs are met.
During the talk I saw with Tony Robbins he brought two men together, one an Arab from Pakistan and one a Jew from Brooklyn. They both hated each other at first, especially given the circumstances of 9/11. During a process Tony put them through he helped them to realize how alike they were and that they both had the same needs and desires. They ended the day as friends and even created a foundation together to help teach peace amongst Arabs and Jews.
When you find yourself fighting with your spouse, feeling alone and overwhelmed with grief take a moment to understand what are the benefits you are gaining from those intense emotions. Make a list to see the benefits that anger, grief, sadness is giving you. Understand what arguing with your spouse provides.
Maybe you are seeking connection and the only way you know how is by starting an argument. Perhaps you lost someone close to you and the only way to keep them alive in your mind is to go over and over how much you miss them. Maybe you’re dealing with a separation and the only way to feel significant is by making the process painful for your ex.
When we become aware of what needs we are acting on we can begin to choose vehicles that will better serve us and help us get to our chore needs, which for most of us is love and connection.
If you’ve lost someone this year, the holidays can be especially difficult. It’s important to surround yourself with friends, family who support you and a guide, counselor or coach who can help you deal with your conflicting emotions that come up. It’s normal to at first feel like you’re dealing with things well and then a surge of emotions seem to come out of nowhere. It’s during these times that support is essential. Not everyone has the “Sex And The City” group of friends or a sister or mother to talk to. If you don’t have it you need to create it.
On the other side of a stressful fall and winter holiday season is the peace and solace that holiday magic can bring. Getting to a place where you can enjoy the gifts around you is possible no matter what your story is. It’s a matter of setting yourself up to enjoy it.