Take 2018 By Storm

Starting any new year with rose-colored glasses firmly in place is an offshoot of ending the previous one in a recharged state of mind. When the sun sets on 2017, leave end of the year woes—holiday fatigue, politically charged party conversation and unfulfilled resolutions included—in the past and give yourself the freedom of a fresh start in the new year.

Embrace Your Inner Grinch

Joviality and joy are insisted upon during the holiday season. The twinkling lights, Hallmark movie expectations and festive parties practically demand perpetually high spirits for a solid month, if not more.

For a lucky few super-enthusiasts, it is an easy feat to maintain this level of extreme fervor and goodwill. For most however, the over-crowded, over-priced stores, never-ending shopping lists and late-night party obligations incite irritable exhaustion. Most maintain a façade of happiness while simultaneously feeling guilty and stressed because they don’t embrace the holiday spirit. After all, isn’t joyous the way we should feel during this time of year? Maybe, maybe not.

A Grinch-like reaction to holidays is often connected to being pummeled by the intense commercialization of the season. It’s common to feel more than a tad bitter that spending buckets of money is touted as the only meaningful way to celebrate—and shame on those who don’t. Stay strong. Resist. Do not give in to the brainwashing. If it seems impossible to spend absolutely no money because kids or grandkids will be devastated, leverage your dollars on experiences for yourself and the recipient rather than material items.

Spending time together is of infinitely greater value than purchasing items that will inevitably fall into the pile of unappreciated, unneeded stuff of years past. For example, your daughter might love time bonding with mom at a day spa, a grandchild would look forward to seeing a baseball game or show and everyone loves being treated to a meal at their favorite restaurant. Think about gifts in terms of time instead of dollars spent and it is likely that Grinch-y feelings will fade—at least a bit.

For some, the holidays are a time of melancholy reflection or even depression. There is an understandable difficulty in dredging up cheeriness. It’s normal to miss loved ones who have passed on or to think about prior times in life that were happier, healthier or more peaceful. Under these circumstances, it is important to honor this as a sad time of the year rather than trying to force joviality when it doesn’t feel right. Resist the urge to withdraw from friends and family. It is far healthier to spend time with loved ones in smaller groups—making it more about meaningful connections and less about partying. Over time, it is possible to build new traditions and memories (not to replace the old ones) so that the holidays are rekindled as a time of warmth and connectedness typically associated with the season.

When holiday season crankiness is the result of feeling over-extended and exhausted, it is time to fully indulge your inner Grinch without guilt. Set limits on socializing, including declining less important parties and going to sleep even if the last gift hasn’t been wrapped. By all means, take a few shortcuts, like catering in a few dishes or inviting guests to bring sides, appetizers and desserts. Assign yourself to a few hours on the couch to catch up on shows—just make sure to fast-forward through holiday advertising!

Pointers on Diplomacy

Holiday gatherings are meant to be a time for light conversation and catching up with relatives, but polarizing political talk is becoming the inevitable norm. It often leaves all sides tense, angry and significantly distracted from the “peace and joy” of the season. Be it at a family dinner or an office holiday party, it may not be possible to stop others from plunging headfirst into verbal sparring matches. It’s advisable to steer clear but many times it’s unavoidable without distancing yourself from the group entirely.

Never initiate a political conversation—no matter how tempting it may be. If it’s lively political debate then save it for dinner with close friends. It is unlikely such a conversation would end well at a family dinner. This is even more pertinent at a gathering among acquaintances or coworkers—especially if alcohol is involved.

The best course of action is to skillfully change the conversation by segueing into a relatable but less heated topic. When healthcare reform comes up, interject with what a fantastic new doctor you just found. Is climate change on the table? Slide into the amazing weather you had on vacation.

Remain neutral if you’re absolutely stuck. This can be challenging for most people, especially when confronted with a point of view that flies directly in the face of logic and sanity. It is critical to stick to facts and information, refraining from offering opinion, as this is when unpleasantries begin. It is strategic to ask sincere questions in an attempt to understand the other person. It might not change your political opinion but it could diffuse someone that is combative, possibly drunk and looking for an audience.

Consider it a red flag if someone is actively soliciting political opinions. A confrontation with a racist, sexist or otherwise bigoted individual can be the most difficult—especially if it means discovering this wholly disagreeable side of a friend or family member. It is important to stand up for what is right. Remain unemotional, point out to the culprit that political opinions should not be based on racism or sexism. Don’t expect them to see the light. But in this case, a firm opposing opinion might just shut them down.

The best way to ensure that the conversation does not deteriorate into a screaming match is to very calmly, but directly insist on a personal policy of not expressing any opinions on heated political topics. Know when to quit and move on to the next person. No matter how much fun it might be to engage in a passionate conversation, it if takes a bad turn at any point, excuse yourself and find the punch bowl as fast as possible!

Move Past Failure and Mistakes

The end of the year is a natural time to reflect on the past 12 months and consider what could be done differently in the next year. This contemplation leads to expressions of regrets. In so many instances, the prior year began with a stated or implied resolve to have a more balanced, healthier lifestyle—yet the year comes to a close without the accomplishment. The diet derailed, regular exercise was abandoned, an unhealthy relationship persists, tempers still flare, money is overspent, too many hours are still worked and not enough time is spent with friends and family. This realization is demoralizing and many feel they have failed as a person.

It would be ideal if everyone achieved his resolutions the first time but realistically, many people experience failure at least once before achieving success. These can be strong emotions, weighing heavily as the calendar flips to Jan 1.

It can be difficult to forgive yourself for not having accomplishing a goal. However, self-forgiveness is exactly what is required to progress forward and try again to succeed—no matter how many times it may take. Focusing solely on failures can translate into poor self-esteem and a sense of hopelessness. This negativity turned inward will interfere with any chance of success in the future because it is difficult to be motivated and goal-directed when you’re disheartened and believe you’re incapable of achieving more.

It takes emotional bravery to acknowledge personal failure rather than rationalizing that failure as something not serious and pretending that this wasn’t an important personal goal from the get-go. This emotional strength is an important first step toward ultimately achieving success. Think hard about why it didn’t happen, there are usually valid reasons. Analyzing these is far more constructive than feeling guilty or self-critical. Once these reasons are clearly understood it becomes much easier to reset the commitment to success. A failure might have been due to not enough planning. Understanding this (and recognizing it is not a fundamental personality flaw) paves the way for self-forgiveness and acceptance.

The sentiment rings true even when resolutions are not involved. Committing an embarrassing faux pas or a cringe-worthy mistake may seem like the end of the world. Acknowledge that it is almost impossible to go through life without making mistakes or doing something that seems wrong or stupid in retrospect. Accept responsibility for the behavior and apologize when necessary—then it is time to discontinue self-critical thoughts and move forward. It is impossible to change the past. The behavior might have been unavoidable, permanent and rife with negative ramifications (the loss of a friend or reputation). In this case, self-forgiveness must be paired with a significant effort to never repeat the offending behavior.

dr. susan bartell

dr. susan bartell

Dr. Susan Bartell is a nationally-recognized psychologist and author practicing in Port Washington. She also speaks throughout the country on a wide range of topics to help individuals and groups improve emotional and physical health and life balance. drsusanbartell.com