Self-Compassion in dealing with “the holiday blues”

by | Nov 18, 2022 | 0 comments

Many people look forward to the holidays beginning with Thanksgiving and ending with the big New Year’s Eve celebration. But for many, the holidays bring into focus a feeling that their life is not how they pictured it. It may be their job, bank account, or, often, it’s their relationship. The American Psychological Association, in a recent research study, found that 38% of people surveyed felt the holiday season to be difficult and exhausting. Termed the “holiday blues,” these feelings cause many people to experience this time of year as something to “get through”.

Unfortunately, a feeling of generalized unhappiness with a person’s life without examining the cause of their unhappiness often leads them erroneously to jump to the conclusion that the reason is their spouse or partner. The science behind finding the real cause of your unhappiness starts with treating yourself with compassion and stop listening to negative self-talk. Self-compassion researcher Kristen Neff, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, explains, “The easiest way of thinking about it treating yourself like you would a good friend, with warmth, kindness, and support.”

A growing number of research studies have concluded that shifting your mindset toward self-compassion positively affects a person’s emotional and physical well-being and helps them focus more clearly on what’s at the core of their unhappiness. It’s a way to communicate and understand your feelings and why you have them. In human communication, the intention is formed, expressed, and interpreted. However, anxiety caused by a bad work environment or intimate relationship affects your mindset toward a negative bias that can profoundly change how you view the world and your relationships. Negative bias can be hard to beat, writes psychologist Rick Hanson, Ph.D., a senior fellow at the University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. Hanson says,” We have a brain that is automatically designed to do five things.” The first is to scan for bad news. The second is to focus on it – think of obsessing over a vague comment by a spouse or partner. The third is to overreact to it. “The brain reacts more to pain than to pleasure, and we react more to bad news than to good news.” Fourth, we over-learn from a negative experience, which Hanson explains is why we are more likely to remember a negative comment than a positive one. Fifth, these negative experiences make the brain more sensitive to negativity. “We become more reactive, more sensitive, more vulnerable, more irritable, pricklier, and, let’s say, more anxious over time.”

But new research shows that a person can reverse negative bias by making a specific, actionable plan. “Negative experiences lodge in neural networks quickly,” Hanson says. “We have to help positive experiences become lodged there rather than just washing through the brain like water through a sieve.” To do this, Hanson explains that the brain has the ability, through positive neuroplasticity, to rewire the neural network. This is where the power of self-compassion comes in. It means thinking about yourself in a new, more compassionate light. Researchers say that if you know how to show someone else compassion, you can easily learn how to do the same for yourself.

A good way to start is through biotherapeutics, a term coined in 1916 when the Atlantic Monthly reported on a bibliopathic institute run out of a church basement, where a self-appointed specialist dispensed the works of Tolstoy, Shaw, and Thackeray, like tinctures and tonics. The craze for literary clinics never took off like the practice of psychotherapy, but bibliotherapy has regained currency due to the efforts of two University of Cambridge professors, Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin. They co-wrote The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails You. One of the highly recommended books is The Giver by Lois Lowry for people who lack joy in their life.

A 2020 study showed that when a person reads about an event, the same brain regions display activity as they would if they experienced it firsthand. Other studies demonstrate that a person who reads literary fiction tends to demonstrate increased empathy. Reading has also been shown to nurture a sharper mind and coax the body into a state of deep relaxation, similar to meditation. In fiction, themes are rarely explicit but reach a reader on a deep, implicit level, which research shows are how we learn most of our behavior. When reading a book, there’s often a ding, ding that rings in your head with what Aristotle called anagnorisis, recognition. Recognition of what is really ailing you gives you the burst of confidence you may need to address the situation. Reading stimulates self-introspection, the first step to self-compassion and breaking the Groundhog Day mind loop of negative self-talk. As the American author, Wayne Dyer wrote, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

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The information in this article is for educational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice or establish an attorney-client relationship. I am a writer who is also a lawyer, helping lay people learn about law-related issues. Consult a qualified lawyer in your jurisdiction for all legal opinions for your specific situation.

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