’Tis the season of Christmas trees on every corner and a flood of sentimental sensory overload designed to fill your head with visions of sugarplums (or the stocking-stuffers of your wildest dreams).
Yet, on any given day we awaken to unsettling, sometimes devastating, news: missile test-launches with their threats of mass destruction; murders of churchgoers, school children and music lovers; computer hacks that put your financial security and very identity at risk, even as you fret over how the latest news on healthcare insurance and tax reform might impact your ability to live your best life. This is not the stuff that “Joy to the World” is made of.
All the lights, tinsel, and merry-making in the world can’t put a shine on the dull ache that grows heavier with every miserable prompt from your newsfeed.
It’s enough to make you call foul-la-la-la-la as your peaceful, silent nights give way to anxious, sleepless nights.
“Disturbing things are going to happen in the world,” says psychiatrist Dr. Janet Taylor. “They always have, but we didn’t always know. Now, we have a president who likes to keep us off-balance and a news cycle that drives itself on negativity.
“Our brains are not equipped to absorb relentless chaos,” Taylor continues. “Stress on the brain can have a cumulative traumatic effect, leading to depression, sleeplessness, anxiety, and addiction.”
So, what’s a not-so-happy holiday seeker to do? ”You can’t control what happens in the world,” says Taylor, who is a self-care strategist, “but you can control the flow and quality of information you’re getting.”
Start by keeping track of BE’s ULTIMATE #BUYBLACK HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE and get a jump on next year’s shopping, which will make your shopping far less stressful and way more satisfying. But before you load up the shopping cart for others, Taylor suggests that you take a page from the personal finance gamebook, and give to yourself first. Here are her favorite gifts for the soul:
Put down your smartphone and think about how you really feel. You can’t get what you need if you don’t know what you need.
Seek more face-time, then smile. “Our parents had more clubs and Sunday dinners where you could sit around the table together and unpack stuff, or get face-to-face comfort,” says Taylor. “Even if you look into the faces of strangers as you walk down the street and smile, you’d be amazed at the positive responses, and the positive feelings you get from them.”
Know when you’ve had enough and tune out, without feeling any guilt or shame. “Not knowing about another murder is not ignorance,” says Taylor.
Treat yourself—with care. Go ahead and indulge, but in moderation. Have the ice cream sundae, not the whole gallon; get a massage, but don’t max out your credit card on a spa trip you can’t afford. There can be a fine line between self-soothing and self-medicating. Do what’s going to make you feel genuinely good in the moment, and the day after, and the week after that
“Be the change” can feel like a tall order, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be as simple as responding to a mean comment with a kind one, or to a selfish act with a generous one. If you want to change the conversation, just do it. Refuse to tear others down or share useless negative information. Or counter all the negativity you can’t control around you by making a positive change in yourself. Eating healthier, re-tooling your résumé, cleaning your junk drawer, even making your bed can give you a sense of control and accomplishment when you feel overwhelmed.
“We are accepting that the world is uncertain and unpredictable,” says Taylor, “but our bodies aren’t built to be always on edge, and we don’t have to accept that constant stressfulness and anxiety.” Especially when comfort and joy are available for free.