Wouldn’t Christmas be so much nicer if we weren’t so worried about everything? You’ve got people (possibly who you don’t see very often) staying at your house, you’ve got a huge dinner to cook, the shops are jammed packed with irate people elbowing you out the way, the weather is threatening snow, the children are off school and need entertaining. Even the lights are all tangled and you feel like throwing them away and getting a new set!
But we don’t have to stay being this anxious. Yes, there are things we need to remember to do and actions we need to take, but being anxious/worried actually provides us with no benefit at all. In fact, because of the way our brains are working while we’re anxious, we’re actually making it a lot harder for ourselves.
Part of our brain (the Amygdala) monitors for “threats” (physical or perceived – tiger or the worry about burning the dinner!). When the Amygdala is active we feel anxiety, think of negative memories, and are ready for the fight or flight response. When this is inactive, we feel safe and secure.
Another part (the Ventral Striatum) is looking out for “rewards”/pleasure, what you want to do more of, safety and security. When this is active you can think more clearly, creatively and quickly. When this is inactive, you don’t feel very rewarded or motivated.
Both these are regulated up and down, depending on the situation. When one is up, the other is down (and all combinations in between). Sometimes you need the threat response to be high (eg. if there’s an oncoming lorry and you need to get out of the way), sometimes you need a balance between the two (eg. going on a scary ride: fear and exhilaration) and sometimes you need feel safer and secure in your situation to think clearly and be more creative.
Getting the right balance of emotions appropriate for the occasion is important, taking control of the regulation between the two parts of the brain. So, let’s think of this as a cocktail – a nice festive one!! There’s a useful mix of emotions for every occasion, or there’s a bitter tasting cocktail that’s just not nice for anyone! So you’ve got to get the right mix of all the different emotions available to you.
For example, if you are feeling anxious and your mind has gone blank, heart racing and feelings of overwhelm, then it’s time to adjust the measures: lower the “threat” measures and increase “reward”. If you are sitting back, letting the world go by, not pushing for change even though you know there could be better possibilities out there, you may need to reduce the “reward” emotions that are keeping you feeling safe and secure in your current situation and explore a bit of uncertainty, your un-utilised talents and calculated risks.
The worries about Christmas are psychological “threats” (eg when you’re feeling frustrated, insecure, uncertain, anxious, demotivated etc). To reduce these perceived “threats” the easiest way is to increase the “rewards”.
- Calm yourself with deep breathing.
- Identify the emotions and reframe by asking yourself “what other way can I look at this”?
- Focus on the positive: what could you get out of this situation, what results will you get (for yourself/others), what are the rewards/benefits you can see?
- Utilise other people as positive resource by thinking about how they might behave in this situation.
- Write down a description of the situation that has triggered the negative thoughts. Then review again and identify fair, balanced thoughts about the situation. Discuss with others if it helps.
- What might you want to do differently next time? Can you identify patterns of behaviour which you can be better prepared for next time?
One of my clients had some unexpected benefits of reducing anxiety and having more creative hormones working for her. “I had a one hour session with Karen to reduce my anxiety [for a specific reason] and when I got home, in under 4 minutes, I untangled the biggest mess of wires that my husband and I hadn’t been able to untangle for months, with no stress – it was so easy, I have no idea how I managed to stress about it and make it so hard!! Well I do know now after seeing Karen, but didn’t realise how you can change how you think for a better outcome!”
Having become aware of how this works in my brain, I’ve decided to become an experimental “cocktail” maker, ideal for Christmas time! How about you?
If you’ve identified yourself in this article and want some help to start reducing your stress over Christmas and into the new year, then contact us for a free half-hour strategy session where we can discover your concerns and identify how we might be able to help you. Use the contact form or email firstname.lastname@example.org.