I will be taking a break for the holiday season and so will this blog. During this time, I will also be on vacation, so the next blog will be the week of January 24, 2022.
In the meantime, there are many months worth of blogs on this website available to read during this time. On the right hand side of this post about midway down of the page, there is a topic entitled POST ARCHIVES. There is a drop down menu for each month and click on each month to bring up the blog posts for that month on a wide variety of mental health topics.
I will also post some inspirational things on the Mindful Montana Wellness Twitter account @MMWCounseling and the Mindful Montana Wellness Instagram @mindfulmontanawellness and Facebook pages throughout the next six weeks so please follow those as well.
I wish all of you a very happy and peaceful holiday season. Make sure to keep your own self care as part of this time as the holidays can be also stressful and chaotic at times.
“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions.”
And he is so right. Of all the emotions we can experience pure gratitude is one that boosts our “feel good” chemicals, increases joy, makes us more mindful, and attracts or brings more good things to our lives. Gratitude costs nothing outside of our effort to be thankful.
Practicing gratitude is like all other things we practice and make habits in our lives. If done daily, even as little as once a day, it can become a habit in as little as 30 days. To do it more than once a day allows us to fully be aware of all the things that we have, things we are thankful for, things bringing good to our lives.
The brain is trained to focus on what we present to it as being the most important. Most of the time what we present is what we are worried about, angry about, sad about and that takes up all the brain’s focus. If we deliberately, purposefully, redirect our brain to the things we are grateful for, it will focus there. Being focused on these things instead of the things we don’t have, or the things we wish weren’t in our lives, or the things that don’t bring good things to our lives frees us to embrace happiness and joy.
There are many ways to practice gratitude. Mental gratitude — being thankful just in your mind, thinking about the things we are grateful for. Spoken gratitude — speaking out the things we are grateful for. Written gratitude — writing down the things we are thankful for. A combination of these gratitude exercises can increase the habit of being grateful daily.
I have been talking about writing as emotional transference quite a bit in sessions recently. Writing can also be very helpful in being grateful to reinforce your gratitude and the habit of being thankful. There are many, many options for gratitude journals online. You can also just as easily use any kind of paper for a journal. You can use a guided or prompting journal that gives you specific things to be grateful for on that date or you can just write about anything you want.
Many apps allow you to practice gratitude daily. I use the Gratitude Journal — Private diary & affirmations on my phone to keep a daily record of my gratitude. But I also incorporate mental and spoken forms of gratitude during the day and while practicing meditation.
It doesn’t matter what you are grateful for. It can be something big like your family, a home, a job, or health. It can also be something seemingly insignificant like coffee, a pen, pajamas, or dark chocolate. It is not what you are grateful for that matters it is that you practice BEING grateful every day to increase your happiness and joy. If you have more on the grateful side of things, you will find that more joy, more happiness, and more things to be grateful for come your way.
To create your universe of gratitude, you must put your thankfulness out into the universe. With each thankful moment you release, you are building a universe of gratitude that accepts your thanks and returns to you more things to be thankful for. If your brain is occupied with thankful thoughts more often than it is the thoughts that keep us trapped, we feel happier, freer, more at peace with ourselves and our universe.
In general, the commercials, the photos, the cards for Thanksgiving all depict the same kinds of scenes. Lots of food and family all smiling and happy and thankful. While this is true for many, for some Thanksgiving is a very stressful time of year for a wide variety of reasons.
Unresolved family trauma is a very real thing that rears its ugly head at the holidays. Long held beliefs about where one fits or doesn’t fit into their family come to the surface. Continued abuse either emotional, verbal, or physical find their way out during the holidays. Sometimes, just being in the same room with someone is more than many people can bear.
Grief and loss affect Thanksgiving for many others. The holidays are powerful reminders of those we have lost either through death or the end of relationships. The waves of grief can be too much to surf with a room full of people expecting you to interact and have conversations.
Some people don’t have families. There are circumstances that can leave people alone. Truly alone. Feeling that and being bombarded with the images of Thanksgiving as this happy family holiday can be overwhelming for many of these people.
So how can one weather the Thanksgiving holiday if our lives do not resemble the “happy family Thanksgiving” presented to us on a daily basis? The focus must be on doing what is best for you, not what is expected.
* Do not feel pressured to attend any event. This can be very difficult with families due to the possible judgment (real or imagined) that can occur. You do not have to go at all. However, if you do go, you do not have to stay very long. Don’t go early. Possibly present yourself for the meal only and after it is over find a way to leave quietly. If the event is with friends but you are not feeling up to it for whatever reason (grief, loss, illness, etc.) you do not have to go.
* Be aware of your own feelings. If a Thanksgiving gathering makes you anxious, sad, depressed, overwhelmed or any other negative emotion notice it, acknowledge it, and if you feel you need to leave for your emotional health – leave.
* Limit alcohol consumption. At many Thanksgiving gatherings, alcohol is part of the event. When we are feeling anxious, sad, depressed, grieving, or emotions from the past come up, we can think that drinking more alcohol can dull those emotions. Many time it can have the opposite effect increasing them and also lessening inhibitions that can cause us to act or say things in ways we would not if we were sober. This can lead to arguments, fighting, and even physical confrontations.
* Avoid the drama. Don’t take the bait of judgmental comments made by others. Redirect conversations that are critical, political, or confrontational. Enforce and reinforce your own boundaries politely but firmly. If things get too heated or make you very uncomfortable, leave.
* Give to others. If a gathering of family or friends is not something you are looking forward to, maybe finding a way to give to others would be better for you. Help collect and distribute Thanksgiving meals or turkeys to those who don’t have them. Volunteer to serve Thanksgiving dinner at a shelter or other facility for those without families or homeless. Visit a nursing home to spend time with some older folks who may not have family.
* Self-Care. Whether you spend time with family, friends, others, or alone for Thanksgiving, find time for your own self-care. Do something you enjoy. Something that you find relaxing. Go for a walk, meditate, write, paint, take a bath, get some exercise, put on your pajamas and watch football or a favorite movie. Invest time in letting go of any stress that has built up throughout the day or the several days of the holiday (shopping can be stressful too). Take care of you.
Whatever your Thanksgiving holiday contains, I do hope that you find a way to recognize the things you have to be thankful for. If it is family and friends be thankful for that. If it is for pajamas and watching football be thankful for that. If it is for helping others and giving of yourself be thankful for that. If it is for opening your eyes to another day be thankful for that. Find your thanks where ever it is. It is okay, Thanksgiving isn’t for everyone, but being thankful is.