Thoughts from the Therapy Chair with Joe Martino: Holiday Thoughts

The holidays are here. Thanksgiving having just finished (Michigan beating that team down south of us) and the end of the year is fast approaching.

Family dinners, friends gathering, spirit of good cheer and love. Except…

Except that for many people, the holidays are anything but a joyous occasion. A common refrain from those in the mental health field is the number of people who dread the holidays. So let’s talk about some ways that we can navigate the upcoming weeks.

  1. If you’re feeling depressed, reach out to someone. We can all feel down and a little out of sorts during any time of year. We get the least amount of sunshine this time of year which doesn’t help. On top of that, the holidays can be a contentious time where people disagree and hurtful things are said and done. There is also the reminders of our losses over the years. Friends and family who will not be here for this holiday season. For these reasons, and a host of potential other reasons this time of year is often a time of high deaths by suicide. If you’re feeling down or depressed, reach out to someone. Most people report significant improvement in their mental and emotional state after only a few sessions with a qualified and skilled therapist.
  2. You don’t have to win every disagreement. Simply because Uncle Hal, or Aunt Sally has political opinions that you don’t agree with, heck maybe you think they are downright despicable, that doesn’t mean you have to engage them in an argument. No one can make you fight with them. If you can’t politely remove yourself from the situation, practice good listening skills. Try to understand their opinion and how they came to it. Our world is split by people who can’t seem to agreeably disagree. Maybe you can start a revolution where people who disagree about things like politics can come together and find the points they agree upon. Even if you cannot do that, it costs you nothing to allow Uncle Hal or Aunt Sally to hold an opinion you believe is wrong.
  3. Create a habit of gratitude and thankfulness. It’s fine and healthy to acknowledge and lament the things that need to change in this world. It’s also healthy and necessary to create a habit of being thankful for those things that are right in the world. The neighbor who helped a stranger for no reason other than the fact that they needed help. If you don’t have any instances that you think rate you being thankful for, then become the change you want to see. Donate some of your time helping other people. Create a journal where you write down three things that you are thankful for over the last 24 hours. In a very short time, your brain will rewire itself to look for things that it can be thankful for and you will re-create your brain.
  4. Start a habit of exercise. I know “new year, new me” is coming but why wait? Start walking now. Walk for 45 minutes at a moderate pace (think about having to take a deep breath before you can talk) three to four times a week. The benefits of this are both physical and emotional. Some research suggests that this is better for anxiety and depression than any medicine.
  5. Choose what you focus on this holiday season. As humans we have something of a superpower. We can choose what we focus on in any given situation. We seem to have abdicated that ability over time and have conflated the idea that our brains actually run us rather than us running our brains. We are not our mind, our mind is part of us. Because of this, you can choose what you focus on this holiday season and every day.

Take time to breath and I wish you and yours the merriest of holidays.

Joe Martino is a counselor with Joe Martino Counseling Network.  He has locations in Lowell, Grand Rapids, Greenville, and Grandville.  For more information about Joe and his business, check their website or Facebook page.  He and the rest of the counselors and staff are eager to help those in need.

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