Posts Tagged ‘christmas’

The perfect gift

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

In many countries, ’tis the season for finding the perfect gift for your friends and loved ones.  It truly can be a special time of thoughtfulness and giving.

But just to mix things up, I’d like to challenge you to give a unique gift this year… one that has a great kick-back incentive. It’s not a store-bought gift or one you order online, but one that comes from your social intelligence — the ability to be aware of those around you and manage your relationship with them. This gift is empathy.

Empathy is a competency of emotional intelligence and one which can be easier to offer to some than others. Empathy is not only sensing others’ feelings and perspectives, but it is showing an active interest in their concerns.

For those we care about and love, showing empathy comes easy.  When a friend is in trouble, we hurt with them and want to do what we can to help out.  But have you tried showing empathy toward those who have disappointed you or let you down?  Easier said than done.

There is no magic formula to doing this. Offering the gift of empathy toward those who are not on your “Nice” list is difficult. We naturally tend to withhold kindness toward those who’ve been hurtful and even can find a sense of twisted satisfaction when we choose to not forgive their wrongdoing toward us. But we all know it’s us who suffers most when we choose anger and resentment. And opting not to forgive someone, to not put ourselves in their shoes and try to understand the why behind their behavior, instead skipping down the path of resentment, damages our own well-being.  In an article published by John Hopkins Medicine, Dr. Karen Swartz, M.D. at John Hopkins Hospital says this: “Chronic anger puts you into a fight-or-flight mode, which results in numerous changes in heart rate, blood pressure and  immune response. Those changes, then, increase the risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions.”  (https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_connections/forgiveness-your-health-depends-on-it)

Dr. Swartz goes on to say, in contrast, “Forgiveness, however, calms stress levels, leading to improved health.” Anger toward someone who’s been hurtful is normal.  It’s just not a place you want to hang out for long.

Who are you holding a grudge toward or harboring anger toward?  I’m guessing someone’s name came quickly to mind. Try writing down that name on a piece of paper and, for a moment, attempt to lay aside their hurtful behavior. List out all the positive things about them you can come up with. (There’s no need to write down the hurtful behavior — no doubt you’ve replayed that in your mind countless times!) Your list of positives might be short. That’s OK. But looking at their whole person instead of focusing only on the hurtful behavior can help shift your perspective, even if just a bit. Then write down what you know of their current situation — what are they going through? Are they lonely? Are they depressed? Are they scared, worried, or trying hard to impress others? Are they financially burdened or seem full of themselves? Are they struggling with insecurity? Most of our poor behaviors occur when we’re not in a good space.  Attempting to understand their situation and offer a little understanding can have tremendous power over the anger in your heart.

“As human beings, we all have reasons for our behavior. There may be people who have certain physiological issues that dictate why they make certain choices. On the whole, though, I think we’re dictated by our structure, our past, our environment, our culture. So once you understand the patterns that shape a person, how can you not find sympathy?” — Forest Whitaker

To begin to heal, you may need to have a conversation with this person to let the know the pain they’ve caused. You may need to journal about it, talk with a friend, work with a coach, or see a counselor to sort things out. Whichever action you need to take to put this behind you and move on, do it. Every minute you hang on to  resentment and anger is one more minute you are robbing yourself from living a full life.

You don’t have to become best friends with the person.  In fact, in situations of severe hurt, it may be best to not have contact with them if possible. But whatever your ongoing relationship with them may be, there’s no need to keep replaying their destructive behavior over and over in your mind.  Why relive something so pain-filled? It happened. Past tense. No need to keep bringing it into your present. Offering a little empathy — not in any way justifying what they did — by attempting to understand why they did it, can help you begin to move forward again.

Offering the gift of empathy doesn’t make light of the pain, nor does it give license for the person to continue to inflict damage upon you.  Forgiving someone doesn’t tell them what they did was OK. It tells them that you’re not going to punish them (and yourself) any longer for something in the past. It can free you from the hurt and enable you to move forward again…with or without them.  In fact, offering someone empathy isn’t really for them — it’s a gift of love to yourself.  Yes, your empathetic behavior may bring about a shift in that person’s mindset–but that’s not your concern. Your emotions and behaviors are the only ones you can truly manage. Think of empathy as a gift you give to others which comes with an incredible kickback incentive — healing for your heart.

Empathy is probably the most perfect gift you’ll find this season. And I promise, it’s a gift you’ll never want to return. Why not give it a try?

How to experience holiday cheer when you’re single and alone

Article Contributed by Amy Sargent

The telltale signs of the holiday season are here – colorful, twinkling lights, shoppers bustling, melodic music in every store, people smiling, and laughing, holding hands and kissing, joy and peace everywhere you look. It sure is lovely. But is this your reality?

As much as we may long for the picture-perfect scene from a Currier and Ives painting, honestly, it can be a tough time of the year. More accurate may be a slowdown in business causing financial strain, which can lead to frustration, worry, and depression, and boy do these have an impact on our relationships. Arguments over petty issues, impatience, and ugly words we can’t take back are so easy to fall prey to when we’re stressed. Before we know it, the merry Christmas season can become a time of fights, loss of love, breakups, and marital strain. Which doesn’t exactly make for a holly jolly Christmas.

In an article printed in the Healthline newsletter, the author writes:

Depression may occur at any time of the year, but the stress and anxiety during the months of November and December may cause even those who are usually content to experience loneliness and a lack of fulfillment.” (Holiday Depression, https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/holidays#1). And what is the biggest predictor of holiday depression? Social isolation.

Maybe you’re one of those people who is blessed to be in a healthy, happy relationship, surrounded by positive friends and family. If that’s the case, I’m so glad. Really. It’s the ideal, without doubt. Enjoy it, relish it, and continue to be thankful for the riches that abound around you.

But if you’re one of those who finds yourself alone, the holiday season can be difficult. Feelings of isolation, loneliness, uselessness, lack of purpose, and just plain sadness can envelope you and before you know it, you find yourself on Team Grinch. Personally, this season I’m experiencing the delightful duo of empty nest syndrome and a painful breakup, and I’ll just say that decorating the tree this year wasn’t exactly what we see on the Hallmark channel movies. Replace the perfect, smiling couples in lovely Christmas sweaters, falling in love as they hand each other ornaments, with this picture-perfect scenario: a weary, single mom struggling with the tree base, (the tree only tipped over twice before I got it up!), lights in tangled knots and missing bulbs, throat tightening over each ornament that reminded me of earlier days with the kids, a glass of wine in hand with tears streaming down my face. I wonder if Mr. Currier and Mr. Ives would’ve like to paint a picture of that?!

I don’t tell you this to evoke pity. I have a blessed life. I have three lovely children who adore me and try to get home on the holidays. I have an extended family that supports me and a daddy that holds me as the apple of his eye. I have an engaging profession, brilliant colleagues, dear friends who love me, a safe place to live, all the necessities of life, and a whole lot of positive thinking. As alone as I feel at times, I know that it is temporary. The pain of loss will eventually move along and be replaced with joy soon enough. I’m not negating the hurt – it’s tough and I’ve let my share of tears flow. But I know this won’t last. However, not everyone can see the light at the end of the dark, Polar Express tunnel.

If you’re one of the charmed ones this season, surrounded by loved ones, please take a moment – or two or three or ten – to be on the lookout for your friends who may be struggling. Please, especially check in on your single friends. Invite them over for dinner, take them out for drinks, buy them a cute pair of snowman socks and drop a surprise gift at their doorstep. Think of things you can do to make sure they feel loved, included, and cared for. It’s easy to take it for granted when you’re not alone, but remember many single people don’t have that special someone who is thinking of them this time of year, and if you don’t look out for them, no one will.

 “To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.” – Mark Twain

And if you’re one of those of us who are alone, you’ve got some homework, too. Sorry, but you don’t get to wait around for someone else to reach out to you. First, be sure to tune into how you’re feeling. Emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of how you’re feeling, in the moment, and to use that information to manage behaviors. Don’t hide from those feelings of sadness, desperation, anger, or disappointment. Don’t bottle them up – instead, let them serve you. Our emotions are terrific indicators of what’s going on inside, so listen up. This may sound counter-intuitive, but if you’re grieving, grieve. If you’re hurting, hurt. If you’re worried, worry. Pretending we don’t feel the way we feel won’t get us anywhere. Experience your emotions– cry it out, punch your pillow, journal, write that email then delete it, whatever you need to do that’s safe and non-damaging to express how you’re feeling – then get up, wipe your tears, and get out. Spending too much time alone in social isolation will increase feelings of depression and increase your awareness of being alone.

Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.” – Daniel Goleman

I know you don’t feel like it (the pulls of Netflix are strong), but you’ve got to make yourself get out, with the purpose of getting the focus off yourself and onto others. Slip into a fun holiday dress or tie. Stop in the coffee shop and buy a stranger a drink. Sign up for a social event with groups like Meetup to meet new friends. Volunteer at the food bank. Take a walk along the brightly-decorated downtown streets. Press $10 in someone’s hand and wish them happy holidays. Buy gifts for your friends and take the time to wrap them in beautiful paper with ribbons and string. Invite a friend to a movie. Host a holiday gathering at your house…and if you’re short on funds, ask everyone to bring an appetizer or drink to share. Wear a silly Santa hat and make people smile. Build a snowman. Leave an extra-large tip for the waitress. Go to the Christmas parade. Invite some friends to go sledding. Find an outdoor ice skating rink and wobble around on blades. Attend the local tuba concert (yes, these exist!). There are so many fun events around town this time of year just waiting for you to enjoy! I know, it’s not what your dreaming of, being cuddled up by the fire with that special someone as Bing croons Silver Bells, exchanging gifts from Jared’s. I get it. But getting out and around others and doing fun activities will do wonders to lift your spirits and get your focus off yourself. Sure, you’ll cry again when you get home, but at least you’ll get a reprieve from the self-pity and enjoy the sights and sounds of the holiday season with others for a few moments.

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.Charles Dickens

I can only recommend the above activities because it’s what I’m doing this holiday season. I’m still sad, and alone, but am having bits and pieces of fun in between the tears. And my outlook for the future is getting brighter with each strain of Baby It’s Cold Outside I hear.

Of course, if you are feeling depressed and/or are experiencing overwhelming negativity, thoughts of inflicting harm to others or yourself – or suicidal thoughts – seek professional help immediately. Don’t mess around with that one. Sometimes we can’t pull ourselves up out of the slump alone and we need the help of others. No shame there – but don’t hesitate if your pain has taken a turn down a dark path. Get help.

Whether this is turning out to be the best holiday season ever, or looking a little bleak – we can all experience the joy of the season with a little extra effort in looking out for one another, reaching out to others, and living outside of ourselves. Whether you’re alone or with that special someone, you can practice kindness, a giving heart, and selfless love this season. Why not give it a try?

 

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