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Dear Holidays. I surrender.

There is so much associated with the holiday season in Western culture. Traditions. Expectations. Emotions.

So. Many. Emotions.

Here’s just a few big feelings that I’ve encountered in the past week:

  • Stressed – In addition to busy working mom life, there’s all the holiday stuff on top – present shopping, lights on the house, decorating the tree, parties, travel, special foods to bake. Often I only have myself to blame. For instance, because my husband and I are completely insane, we upgraded the easy holiday photo card into a cookbooklet with not only a letter and photos but new favorite recipes from our year assembled into a 20 page booklet sent to over 100+ people.

  • Angry, Attacked and Ashamed – My fabulous husband and I always fight more during the holidays. We’re both trying to juggle all the stuff in the section above and, despite our best efforts, our stress gets taken out on each other. A survey of over 2,000 couples conducted by OnePoll, sponsored by Omeprazole, found that the average couple will have seven fights over the holidays. The top five reasons to argue include: where to spend the holidays (35%), how much to spend on gifts (31%), whose family to visit (29%), who cleans up (27%), and who cooks (24%). I suppose it’s nice to know it’s not just me and Jason.

  • Exhausted – I’m burnt out and tired. But it’s not just the physical exhaustion of doing all the stuff. There’s emotional exhaustion as well. the proximity to my parents and siblings can bring out the worst in me – old habits and patterns baked into my being from childhood. I become helpless and meek around my parents and bossy around my sister. Sometimes, I just want to crawl into bed and wake up on January 1, 2023 with the holidays over and done. You?

  • Joyful – There are precious moments of sheer holiday delight. We savored spiked hot cocoa amidst the twinkling light show at the local arboretum with friends. My best friend and I spent a fun afternoon Christmas shopping up and down the adorable local gift shops in downtown Santa Cruz just like we did 20+ years ago. My daughter asked to sleep in the living room by the tree just in case she can catch a glimpse of Santa though she doesn’t actually believe in him anymore. Magical delight.

  • Grief – I visited my 96 year old grandmother this week. She’s lost her sight and is rapidly losing her hearing and memory. This was the first time where she didn’t recognize or remember me. After my visit with her, I got into my car and cried fat, hot tears of grief.

Look, I know you are inundated with lots of advice on how to savor the holidays. Have you tried Chat GPT? The hot new artificial intelligence platform that will write your emails and blog posts for you? I asked it to write me an article on how to savor the holidays. Here’s what it kicked back:

The holiday season is a time for celebrating and enjoying the company of loved ones. Here are a few tips to help you savor the holiday season:
  • Take time to reflect on the things you are grateful for and focus on the positive aspects of your life.

  • Plan ahead and set aside time for relaxation and self-care.

  • Focus on spending time with loved ones and participating in activities that bring you joy.

  • Try to be present in the moment and enjoy the small things. This could be the smell of freshly baked cookies, the sound of holiday music, or the twinkling of lights on a Christmas tree.

  • The holiday season is a great time to give back to your community and help those who are less fortunate.

Overall, the key to enjoying the holiday season is to take care of yourself, focus on the things that bring you joy, and spend time with the people you love.

That’s all well and good for an artificial intelligence bot. I’m a human. From one human to another, I’ve got something different for you.

Whatever the holidays bring, whether it’s stress, anger, joyl or grief, give yourself permission to feel whatever it is you are feeling.

You are allowed. Emotions are like clouds in the sky. No matter how big or tumultuous the storm, it will pass. You will survive.

When it comes to holiday emotions, I surrender. I've put down my weapons. No more fighting.

There is a significant amount of neuroscience and psychology research that supports the importance of allowing oneself to feel emotions instead of suppressing them. Suppression is linked to serious mental and physical health consequences: depression, anxiety, heart disease, and worse. Research from Matt Lieberman and colleagues suggests that the simple act of naming how you feel can help ease the intensity of the feeling and quiet the amygdala, the part of your brain that triggers a threat response.

You do you when it comes to holiday emotions. Surrender to the holiday emotions, good and bad. It’s like a passing rainstorm – I can’t change the weather. All I can do is let it pass.

That said, don’t take negative emotions out on others. Go outside or into your bedroom or hide in the car. Surrender to the feeling. Let your emotion flow through. I promise that it’ll be way easier to rejoin the party and your regularly scheduled programming afterwards.

There’s a second layer to surrendering to holiday emotions that is important here. There are times I feel like my holiday emotional state should feel like I just stepped out of a Christmas movie or Hallmark card. Which then makes me feel guilty for not always being full of joy and delight throughout the holidays.

This can be especially problematic for people whose family and life situations are not what they want them to be at the holidays. A loved one is declining or recently passed. Finances are so tight that presents and a holiday meal are impossible. Perhaps there’s truly nobody to celebrate with.

There’s a Buddhist parable that seems particularly useful here. The story goes that any time we suffer misfortune, two arrows fly our way. Being struck by one arrow is painful. When the second arrow hits, the experience is even more painful. But the second arrow is optional.

Buddha explains: “In life, we can’t always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. The second arrow is optional.”

That second emotional arrow – the guilt, shame and jealously over one’s own emotional life looking so different from the shiny, air-brushed social media pics – is completely optional.

So, my completely non-AI advice to you this holiday: Surrender to the emotional wave of the first arrow. Let the second arrow pass you by.

A big hug from me to you this holiday season, however you are feeling.

Read More

If you want some more traditional guidance on how to slow down and reduce the stress of the holiday season, check out this blog post from last year.

If you want to learn more about the costs and consequences of emotional suppression, and learn some easy tips on how to regulate your emotions instead, check out this fabulous article from the Greater Good Science Center.

Going Further

Does leadership sometimes feel lonely? It doesn’t have to be. Imagine how different life as a leader could feel with a group of inspired, seasoned professionals to wrap you in an authentic, supportive community and help make your deepest career wish a reality. The first member of the 2023 Collective Wisdom Mastermind just enrolled. Reach out today.

I’m offering a half-day workshop all about the neuroscience and psychology of giving and receiving feedback this January 2023! You’ll have your choice of in person or on Zoom. Bring a friend from your organization and get 20% off! Sign up ASAP!

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