HEAL This Holiday Season
For many, thinking of the holiday season instantly brings up negative feelings. Some
may miss loved ones that have passed away. Others may have to come in contact
with relatives who can be controlling, insensitive or insulting. Food and treats are
everywhere making one who is coping with an eating disorder feel like they are in
a combat zone. But what if there was a way to neutralize those negative feelings?
Could there be a way to make the holidays joyous and self-compassionate rather
than insufferable and miserable?
Rick Hanson is a neuropsychologist who describes our brains as hard-wired for
negativity. He believes the brain is constantly seeking safety, satisfaction and
connection. In its effort to keep us ideally content, the brain easily seeks out
negative experiences to point out danger in our physical safety, ability to approach
rewards and our relationships with others. These experiences stick to us like Velcro
while our positive experiences slip right off us. It is protective but can often get us
stuck in a reactive or red state where we are veering toward negativity away from
the very ideal state.
So what to do? The first step is to get exercise. Exercise helps grow the parts of the
brain that will allow for learning and change. In addition, Hanson has a four-step
process to get our brains back into our responsive or green state starting having a
positive or good experience. During the holidays, seek out an experience that you
like. Could it be seeing a movie? Visiting a favorite childhood park? The first bite
of a relative’s apple pie? It might even be being grateful to live in your own home
away from these people. Second, enrich that moment. Let it sink in for 10, 20 or
30 seconds. Look for aspects of the experience you may have glossed over initially.
Really feel the warmth and positive glow of the experience. Third, absorb the
moment. This is final step of installing the experience so that you can recall it at any
moment. As you recall it, you will feel that warmth and positivity taking you from a
red reactive state to a green responsive state.
The final step of the process is linking the positive experience with a negative
experience to neutralize it. This can often be the most difficult step because
the negative experience can overwhelm the positive. The help of a trained
psychotherapist can be useful in learning this process. Once you become practiced
in getting yourself into a green or responsive state, your brain will change and
become hardwired for happiness. So, for the holidays, consider following the HEAL
process. Have a good experience, Enrich the experience, Absorb the experience and
one day Link the experience with a negative one to always know that you can have happy
holidays despite annoying relatives and painful memories.
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