This is the season of dinners, parties and structured celebrations. Many find these joyful obligations stressful or annoying: “I dislike small talk and walking around with a frozen smile,” or “I know Aunt Helen is going to interrogate me about my diet.” Have you become critical like you can’t help but notice the flaws? Have you turned into Scrooge? Your negative perceptions might be due to projection. Similarly, positive comments can be self-revealing. For example, you are kinder to others, when you are happy. Basically, you tend to see in others traits similar to your own which are fueled by mood. You just might be turning into Aunt Helen!
Most things that upset your equilibrium challenge your self-worth in some way. Research conducted by Dustin Wood, assistant professor of psychology from Wake Forest explains that “Your perceptions of others reveal so much about your own personality.” Consequently, if you are mostly biased to what’s wrong as opposed to what’s right, well you can take it from there…
This is the season to turn on your inner light. The holidays keep us spiritually active, bring us together and create inner warmth when the weather turns cold and the days are shorter. Being sociable along with volunteering is physically and emotionally vital for well being. In contrast, the type D personality, who is distant and distressed, is more prone to disease and at risk for premature death. It is easier during this time of year to cocoon indoors, experience some degree of Seasonal Affective Disorder and use the internet as a substitute for society. However, technology isn’t a good substitute for relationships while family could be – first, you will need to get rid of your negativity bias!
In a 10-year longevity study of people aged 70 and older, researchers at the Centre for Ageing Studies at Flinders University in Australia concluded that a network of good friends is more likely than close family relationships to increase longevity. Apparently, one can choose his friends, but is often stuck with family. Other studies from Harvard have arrived at the same conclusion. The solution is to make friends with your family. The holidays provide an excellent opportunity - time and place- to reconnect with your gene pool: to re-appreciate what you already have and will always have unlike friends who come and go in our lives or can turn into frenemies betraying our vulnerable confidences.
Note: You tend to judge your family harshly while you justify the same words or actions when they come from you. This season stop reliving perceived indiscretions. Try to see Aunt Helen’s honest comments as helpful or at least well-intentioned. When you get annoyed, ask yourself: What’s going on in my life?
It really does take a village of friends and family to deal with daily stress. I don’t want to stress you out, but chronic stress has been proven to shorten lives (as evidenced by shortened telomeres on strands of DNA). In addition stress exacerbates pre-existing disease conditions particularly of the autoimmune variety due to the inflammation process. And if one is depressed, lonely or anxious, stress causes self-sabotage reverting to unhealthy habits. On the other hand being sociable with friends and family can:
- Help build immunity to external pressure by having a support system – how others would handle a similar problem
- Provide a positive lens when one leans toward negative perception – to help reframe personal bias toward anger, resentment and worry
- Physically contribute to well being by helping with chores, money issues and providing a network of “experts” for guidance – like a well-run village
- Promote a feeling of belonging to a community where one is not helpless and hopeless, but rather can make a unique contribution
Socializing has been ranked as beneficial for health on par with exercise. Consider this fusion therapy: Combine exercise with socializing by working out with others or taking classes at a gym or community center for an amazing synergy. Take a walk with family members after that big holiday dinner.
And if you are feeling alienated from humanity because of illness, disappointment, sadness or job loss, compel yourself to interact with others. The minute you open up about what you are feeling to another person, even your mother-in-law, you might be surprised by the response: “I know what you mean. I felt the same way when …!” You will feel the Phoenix rising in you.
Debbie Mandel, MA is the author of Addicted to Stress: A Woman's 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life
, Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout
and Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul
, a stress-management specialist, host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WGBB AM1240 in New York, and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more please visit her educational site: www.turnonyourinnerlight.com.