Image: Tony C French
By Dr Sonja Falck
Whatever your own culture or religion, if any, you’re unlikely to get through December without some degree of sensory overload – music, lights, crowds – which signals “’Tis the season to be merry” (tra-la-la-la-la…).
What do you think of and feel about Christmas? There are years when I travelled to non-Christmas-acknowledging countries to escape all the hype, and I have had years when the joyful anticipation, planning and coming together with loved ones has made it the most glorious of seasons.
As a psychotherapist, every festive season I hear clients tell me about their related hopes and fears, and their logistical challenges and emotional ordeals. When I teach my trainee-therapist students about the use of metaphor in therapy sessions, I use Christmas as an example because everyone can relate to it. Do you experience Christmas, I ask, as a wonderland? A minefield? A ghost town? An Aladdin’s cave? Daylight robbery?
However your personal circumstances and opinions are affecting the way you feel about this time of year, here are my top five seasonal survival tips:
- Beware of expectations – your own expectations, and those of others. I firmly believe that the main thing that goes wrong with the festive season is our expectations about what it should be, fuelled by media images (and myths) of happy families, romantic triumphs and jubilant social events. High-IQ individuals are good at analysing: analyse for yourself which particular expectations you are being affected by this year. Where do these come from? Can you accept the presence of these expectations without being controlled by them? How would you like to cope with each of those expectations this year? Which leads to my next top tip.
- Create clear intentions – decide what you specifically wish to get out of this season and write it down. This is not a wish list for Santa to magically fulfil for you, it is a letter to yourself, in which you itemise things which you have the power to make come true for yourself. It could be “I will go to the party but with a clear exit strategy, which I will implement after an hour”. Or “I want to eat nothing but cheese and crackers as my entire Christmas meal”. Or “I will be charming to Aunt Jane no matter how she moans, because I can understand how her struggles make her miserable and I can be grateful I don’t have those struggles myself right now”. How do you choose what to put on your wish list? That’s in the next tip.
- Practice selective inattention to whatever you’re not liking – I have found that high-IQ individuals can have a strong tendency to criticise, naming all the things they can find wrong with whatever they encounter – people, situations, word choices. A profound insight I keep reminding myself of is that you give power to whatever you give attention to. So, when you experience something as annoying, rob it of its power – simply turn your attention to something else instead. Instead of listing what you want LESS of, find its positive opposite – what do you want MORE of? For example, instead of saying “I don’t want to sit around that boring dinner table for hours”, say “I want to go for an invigorating walk straight after eating”. If you can’t think of something you want more of, why is that? A clue to where to place your focus is contained in the next tip.
- Play to your strengths – for example, high-IQ individuals tend to love having a puzzle to solve. Instead of dreading Christmas shopping as a chore you are obligated to perform, reframe gift-giving as a puzzle to crack: what item or voucher or joke will create the most delighted reaction in the target recipient? You can also make this an opportunity to exercise a skill that high-IQ people can find difficult, which is to think about what is in another person’s mind, from their point of view. Your own mind is so strong and busy, with so much going on there, that it can be hard to make space to consider another person’s wishes. If you succeed at putting aside your own preoccupations for long enough to solve the puzzle of how to truly delight someone else, watching their reaction as they open your gift will give you a hit of dopamine, and create an afterglow of mutual wellbeing that can last a surprisingly long time. Even years from now, it will remain as a happy shared memory. And what if it goes wrong? My final tip helps with that.
- Let it be and let it go – lower the stakes and tell yourself (repeatedly, if necessary) that it’s no big deal if one gift or conversation or meal or festive season goes wrong. The Christmas period is, in total, only one month(ish) of your life. Afterwards, find a person you can debrief with about your experiences, or write them down in a journal. Follow these steps: state what happened; accept that you can’t change what has already happened; identify something you have learned from the experience; name something you are grateful for; and decide on one action that will positively move you forward. How will that action help repair hurt feelings, or create for you a meaningful new experience or connection?
As you look ahead to a new year, one way of creating meaningful connections is to invest in improving the quality of your communication and relationships in 2024. If you’d like further resources on how to do this, feel free to get in touch with me via my website www.intelligentrelationships.co.uk. May it be a Happy New Year for you!