Christmas can be a time of heightened emotions, and despite what we’re led to believe, these emotions are not always positive! Loneliness and grief can re-surface, tempers fray as work groups try to meet unrealistic deadlines and expectations, and Christmas lunch can be more resemblant of the Gaza strip than a happy family gathering.
And whilst it’s tempting to blame external causes, it’s often our own reaction that escalates what might have been a minor issue into nothing short of world war three. So learning how to monitor and regulate our strong feelings and emotional responses is an important component of resilience at both work and at home, and will help us not just survive the Christmas period, but come out of it feeling calm, positive and re-energised for the year ahead.
What pushes your buttons?
We all know the kinds of things that trigger instantaneous and often extreme emotional reactions in us – certain people, comments or situations can switch on intense feelings and strong physical sensations which can seem automatic and out of our control. Becoming aware of your personal emotional triggers is the first step in being able to take back control so they don’t have the same power over you.
Once you know what pushes your buttons you can think about and plan in advance what you’ll do differently if (when!) this happens. If you know you always fly into a rage when Great Aunt Mary brings up the burnt turkey from ten years ago, try preparing a few alternative responses you can have up your sleeve to call on in the moment, such as saying something light-hearted, or just smiling to yourself.
When you feel your emotions starting to escalate, try to put a circuit breaker between the trigger and your reaction – the best way to do this is to simply stop and take 3 deep breaths before you say or do anything. As a scuba diver, I’ve been taught how to react safely and rationally to difficult or dangerous situations underwater using the phrase Stop-Breathe-Think-Act. I use the same phrase above the water to help me de-escalate my extreme emotional reactions!
We can all use a stint in ‘time out’, not just the kids! Keep your ’emotional thermometer’ handy, and watch out for signs that you’re feelings are starting to boil over. Then make sure you grab some time to yourself and do something mindful – take a walk, listen to some music, play with the dog, even mindfully mowing the lawns (maybe not on Christmas day) or doing the dishes! What-ever you chose, try to focus your attention fully on the activity rather than stewing over Aunt Mary and the turkey episode.
Shift the Balance
Sometimes it’s hard to eliminate negativity, after all, sadness, loss, disappointment and worry are part of life. But even during tough times it’s still possible to experience positive emotions, and creating positivity is often more in our control than we think. Savour simple positive moments, reflect on positive memories, share photos or other mementos with others, consider what’s going well in your life, express gratitude and appreciation, watch a funny movie, read something uplifting, do the things you love to do and spend time with people you really connect with.