Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Coping with Holiday Stress: A Depth Psychotherapy Point of View

December 10th, 2018 · coping with holiday stress

We’re now right on the edge of the time when most people start coping with holiday stress.  For a great many people, this is easily the most stressful time of the year.

coping with holiday stress

I’ve written a number of posts on this topic, but I think that it is still as relevant as ever!  Most depth psychotherapists are aware that this time of year is one in which they receive many contacts from potential clients, quite simply because it is such a stressful time of year for people.
There are many aspects of coping with holiday stress, so much so that it would be relatively easy to write up two dozen different blog posts on the subject — relatives, finances, time pressure — the list goes on and on.
For this post, though, I’ve decided to focus on one aspect of the holidays alone, one that is central to the impact of holiday stress.  That is the tremendous expectations that we so easily place on the Christmas / Holiday season.

The Heavy Weight of the Holidays

One of the most difficult aspects of the holidays can be the way that we carry such an idealized weight of expectation about them, which can easily lead to intense anxiety.  If you consider lists of the most popular Christmas music you’ll find titles such as the following:

  • “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”;
  • “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas”;
  • “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”; and,
  • “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”

If you listen to these songs, they’re no doubt charming and even beautiful.  But if you listen closely to the lyrics, you become aware of something else.  They portray an incredibly idealized picture of Christmas, with mistletoe, endless joy and a universal friendly feeling with a warm glow, with every particular detail just right.  Yeah: no pressure people — just get every detail perfect, or else “the most wonderful time of the year” won’t be what it’s supposed to be.

Needless to say, in these songs, there’s no mention of relationship difficulties.  Or financial difficulties.  Or unemployment.  Or the recent loss of a loved one.

Coping with Holiday Stress is Harder if We’re in Denial

Many of us grew up in households where Christmas was idealized to quite an extent.  Yet, perhaps without even being fully aware of it, we can easily perpetuate this attempt to reach an idealized summit of “maximum Christmas” without really ever becoming fully aware of what we’re doing.

We can keep doing that, year after year, trying to live up to some ideal perfect Christmas that never arrives for us.  This can be particularly difficult if people feel an intense amount of pressure to give their children the wonderful Christmas that they perhaps never had for themselves.  Many people are striving so hard to make Christmas right for their kids or grandkids, or other family members.  Often, that can be a source of genuine credit card bill anguish in January.

Changing Our Expectations

It may be that the best means of coping with holiday stress is to change our expectations to something more human and self-compassionate.  What would an approach to the holidays that was kinder to ourselves look like?

It might well be that the holidays would be less stressful if we could meet them with a lot more acceptance of ourselves and of our own life situations.  If we could approach them less as a perfectionistic test that we have to pass, where we and everyone we love has to somehow “make the grade” in terms of our holiday experience, and more as an opportunity to get outside of the busy stress-filled round and re-connect with our selves and our journey to wholeness.

There might be real value in approaching the holidays as a gift to us, rather than as something that we have to achieve.  Perhaps taking the time to value what we do have, and to give ourselves the holidays that we need and want, rather than the ones that meet the marketers’ expectations.  Perhaps acceptance of our lives as they have been over the last year, and seeking to be open to seeing the meaning in our own real lives might give us the holidays we genuinely want and need.

This process of self-acceptance and of uncovering the meaning in depth of our lives as they unfold is a key part of the process of  depth psychotherapy .

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: MollySVH (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Are You Satisfied with Your Life? If Not, What Can You Do?

December 3rd, 2018 · are you satisfied with your life

Are you satisfied with your life?  We all feel that this is a crucial question, but it can be tricky to answer!

are you satisfied with your life
If someone asks me whether I’m satisfied with something more specific, like my dinner in a restaurant, or my new car, or even a job, or perhaps even a marriage — it might be easier to give a straightforward answer.  But if someone asks you “Are you satisfied with your life?”, the question can seem really hard to answer, because our lives are such complex, intricate things.
Work by psychologists such as Prof. Ed Deiner of University of Illinois has shown that this is a much more useful and revealing question for people to ask themselves than whether or not they are “happy”.  Happiness is necessarily very transient, and our happiness is up and down a lot.
Instead, when we ask ourselves, “Are you satisfied with your life?” we get at deeper, more fundamental questions in our lives viewed as a whole.  This sense of deeper satisfaction gets very close to Jung’s meaning when he emphasizes that a sense of meaning is far more important to a person than “being happy”.   As he puts it,
The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.
I’m certainly aware in my own journey of times when my satisfaction with my life has been very high, and times when it has been remarkably low.  The times when life satisfaction is low always have a great deal to reveal to us.

When You’re Really Dissatisfied with Life

When life is really dissatisfying for us, it manifests in a variety of ways.  We may experience anxiety or depression.  The flavour may seem to have gone out of things.  It even seem to us that whatever we have in our lives is just never enough.

Psychological theorists, both ancient and modern, have suggested that human beings are always dissatisfied.  In a sense, that’s true.  We are always motivated to seek something — that’s what makes us human.  This “divine dissatisfaction” that the poets speak of keeps us continually moving in search of more fulfillment; this is what keeps artists and others always stretching and growing.

Yet there’s another, more troubling state, which we could call absolute life dissatisfaction, where, so to speak, everything turns into dust as soon as we taste it.  This is a common experience of people in modern North American life: people surrounded by “stuff”, but the level of unease and discontent experienced by many has never been greater.

The High Cost of Going Through the Motions

Lots of people respond to this type of life dissatisfaction by just doubling down on what they’ve always done.  A person who has focussed all their energies on getting and maintaining a beautiful home may feel a sense of hollowness or emptiness that their house pride just doesn’t help resolve.  Yet, instead of genuinely asking themselves “are you satisfied with your life?”, someone might simply choose to double down on getting a bigger and better house.  And when they’ve got that one, they’ll look for an even finer place.  We can keep up this futile channelling of our dissatisfaction in this way, possibly for a whole lifetime, never getting nearer to lasting value.

In Search of True Value

Yet, often a major life transition like the loss of a loved one, or entering into midlife transition or later life can lead the individual in a different direction.  It can often be that the question “Are you satisfied with your life?’ points the individual in the direction of the undiscovered parts of the self.

The paths that bring some sense of meaning, purpose or satisfaction can be quite unexpected.  The mathematician discovers a love of cooking.  The realtor becomes devoted to her tango classes.  The parent moves from grieving the empty nest to passionate devotion to a cause that he or she finds meaningful.

Often, depth psychotherapy can be of vital assistance in helping the individual to find the wellsprings of value and meaning in life that are truly unique to the individual.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Filip Deblaere (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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