Lifetime: Failing to plan is planning to fail
by Catherine Sabiston, PhD , ctvmontreal.ca
Published Monday, December 19, 2011 9:35AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, June 20, 2012 3:04PM EDT
MONTREAL- This is not another "what NOT to eat or drink or sit over the holidays" routine. We all know what we should and shouldn't eat by now (or at least that you should fill up on the veggie plates and leave the carbohydrates and sugary treats to others!) and, that you should be more physically active because every little bit counts (finding ways to add a little bit of physical activity to your day is a great challenge over the holidays – if you can do it now, you can do it all year!). This is about helping you through the emotional side of the holidays – the guilt of not sticking to the plan, the shame of feeling like a bad person, the anxiety of perfection, the frustration of incompetence… this is about feeling proud of any accomplishments, focusing on the positives, feeling happy, laughing more, and relaxing a little bit (or a lot).
This challenge is about checking in with your emotional health – and what better time of year to try to take control of your emotions?! The basic principle is easy – minimize the negative emotions and maximize the positive emotions. How?? First, you must learn to realize when you feel proud and happy and when you feel tense, frustrated or angry. Then, you can manage these feelings.
This realization isn't rocket science, but it is hard because we live in a booming high-stress, go-go-go environment where there is no time to think about ourselves. To focus on the positive emotions and forget the negative ones, we need to concentrate on ourselves. It is about being mindful of your environment and your feelings.
Steps to realizing your emotions and acting on them to channel the good and forget (or manage) the bad:
1) Stop what you are doing for a moment, close your eyes if you can, and breathe. Take a few deep breaths through your nose and exhale through the mouth. I have also provided you with a few breathing exercises to help with relaxation in the long-term, but simple deep breathing works quickly and in the moment
2) Practice positive self-talk, which is the internal dialogue that you have with yourself, either inside the mind, out loud, or on paper. Positive self-talk is important because it is motivating and encouraging (great for the holidays!) and can lead to better self-esteem and confidence (great in the long-term!). There are four ways of doing this: (i) Stop your thoughts – As soon as a negative thought emerges, use a cue to stop the thought before it continues. Cues that are often chosen include saying the word ‘stop' or snapping your fingers; (ii) Changing negatives to positives – When a negative thought is stopped, it is instantly changed into a positive statement (e.g. ‘I can't' is instantly replaced with ‘I CAN!' or "This will never work" to "I'll give it a try"); (iii) Countering – Instead of changing the wording of the thought only, another more positive statement follows (e.g. ‘I can't run fast' but ‘I can run longer!'). The key here is that the positive statement has to be truthful and believable (and achievable); (iv) Reframing – Change the entire perspective, rather than seeing a chance to fail chose to focus on the opportunities to achieve.
3) Laugh more often, and the louder the better! Laughter has been linked to many benefits, including lower stress, better mood, heightened immunity, reduced pain, and even burning more calories.
4) Practice yoga and/or tai chi, which are both great stress-reducing and health enhancing activities that can be done almost anywhere.
5) Take your family time outside, enjoy walking around the shopping malls, purposefully park the car in the furthest spots available (if there are any available!) – take advantage of the lifestyle activities that you are practicing (from the second segment challenge), as any physical activity is good for your mood.
And remember, failing to plan is planning to fail. We all know that holiday parties and family gatherings are laden with food and drink, and one of the most common emotional reactions I hear is the guilt after eating more than you wanted (which is often linked to the physical activity that didn't happen). First, follow the tips above instead of getting down on yourself and your behaviour. Second, plan your days around the parties by eating less calories, and filling up on vegetables and legumes throughout the day before the party (and after).
My challenge for you this time is to focus only on what you can control, become mindful and conscious of your emotions, and use strategies to self-regulate so that you can live less stressfully in the moment.
Please have a look at these additional guides to wellness: