Thursday, December 8, 2011

Making the Most of the Holidays

The holiday season is once again upon us. Do you welcome it? Dread it? Get depressed by it? Is your sobriety challenged during this season? Most of us have some understandably jaded feelings about the holidays, the annoyingly early and unrelenting commercialism, the non-stop media portrayals of idealized family gatherings, the presumption of abundance, and the pressure to spend beyond our means. In addition, memories, losses, unfulfilled hopes and dreams, and now economic reversals and uncertainties can take the luster off of a season that once held expectations of excitement and delight. The following tips may be helpful in not becoming a victim of the season:

Manage your mind: Depression thrives in that petri dish of negative thought about oneself, others, or life in general. A powerful causal relationship exists between what we think and believe, and what we feel emotionally. Negative thoughts beget negative feelings, which beget negative expectations, which beget negative behaviors, which create a cycle of negativity. An effective way to fend off depression involves being willing to become aware of when your thinking is veering into negative territory, and then consciously and deliberately taking it back into happier territory. Managing your mind takes determination, patience, persistence, and practice. And as with any exercise, you gradually build muscle – mental muscle! And you will gradually feel better and better, both emotionally and physically, the mind-body connection now being a well-established medical fact. A good starting point might be to remind yourself of all you have to be grateful for. Gratitude and depression cannot co-exist for long. An “attitude of gratitude” will change your life.

Participate and give: If you are one of the lucky ones whose life has been transformed by working the steps of AA or another 12-Step program, you are likely to have practiced, in one way or another, all of what is written here, and have learned repeatedly the joy of giving service, lending a hand, 12th-stepping. But you, too, may need the extra support and inspiration of the Program, its members, and its wisdom at this time of year. The opportunities for growth keep presenting themselves, and the Program never fails to offer perspective and hope. Keep going back.

Define your goals: Take charge and ask yourself, “What can I do to make this (or something else) better?” In other words, don’t be a sad victim. Do you want more control over your calendar orpractice management? Call LOMAP. Do you want more energy? Join a gym. Do you want a better relationship with your spouse? Talk (and listen) with him/her about it. Do you want to learn to deal with stress? Call LCL. These self-empowering steps help defeat depression. And when it comes to the holidays, ask yourself what you can do to make it a little happier for yourself and others. And, then, act.

Yes, act! A symptom of depression is helplessness. But helplessness is an illusion, often quite a persuasive or seductive one, but still an illusion. The truth is, if we’re willing, we can all dodge
that sense of defeat by exerting some control over our own lives. (Trying to change someone else is a futile substitute, guaranteed to fail and increase misery.) Acting in our own behalf often involves maintaining a determined attitude, and may require the use of various sources of support such as family, friends, your spiritual community, or LCL.

Take care of yourself, personally and professionally: Respect yourself by taking care of yourself, and you will enjoy better mental and physical health. When you treat yourself with respect, others are likely to do the same. We all know what good self-care means: eat nutritious food and avoid the more available junk food – but enjoy the holiday treats within reason. Sleep – at least 7 hours a day, more if necessary or possible, and take a mid-afternoon nap. Read a good book, take a walk in the woods, have breakfast with friends, go for a run, drop a bad client, or take your spouse to the movies.

Laugh: Especially at yourself. Resist taking things too seriously. Humor doesn’t mean you don’t take your work seriously; it just acknowledges a wider perspective. Keep the funny bone in gear so the kid inside can come out to play when the time right, be goofy even, have some belly laughs; it refreshes both the brain and the spirit and wards off depression. The people you make laugh will always be happy to see you coming.

Plan a vacation: It does not have to be the extravagant trip of a lifetime, although it can be, but plan your vacation time. (If you lack a travel companion, join a tour, or a club; then you’ll have many.) And don’t underestimate the value of one-minute vacations: close your eyes, relax your body, and envision yourself doing what you love. As with laughter, envisioning doing something, or being somewhere you adore refreshes mind and body and can lead to action that turns it into reality. If you can allow yourself to take a vacation.

Adjust your expectations: As a group, lawyers tend to enjoy challenges and set high expectations for themselves, especially at work. For some, seductive financial rewards for unreasonable productivity demands serve to reinforce a potentially destructive imbalance. This is a good time of year to re-evaluate priorities in favor of that which enhances year-’round peace and harmony in both spheres of life – professional and personal, work and love. (Of course, such re-balancing acts can represent a major change and must be carefully thought out, and discussed and planned in conjunction with others who would be affected, maybe even feel threatened, by them.) Balance helps create the conditions for health and happiness.

Change one thing: As creatures of habit and routine, we all know how tough change can be. It’s best to start slow and let the momentum build. Choose just one thing that you can realistically do differently. Consider what will have to shift (Fewer clients? Less TV? Making your own lunch to pay for housecleaning, a babysitter, gym membership? Less complaining?), and evaluate your willingness to make them. Journal your efforts, slips and progress. Keep visual reminders everywhere (write on your bathroom mirror, car windshield, or refrigerator). Enlist the support of a friend, consultant, or counselor to hold you accountable to your intention. Incremental changes are more likely to become habitual. Taking charge of one’s own life is empowering and confidence building and counteracts depression.

Finally, compassionate and good-humored self-acceptance greatly enhances our capacity for genuine enjoyment of ourselves and of others. A healthy, reality-based love of self, warts and all, generates and attracts more love. And love always partners with happiness.

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