Sunday, December 26, 2010

Reframing the Holidays

As a child, I never understood why everyone felt that the holidays were a stressful season. At that age, the holidays meant winter break from school, presents, and more time with friends and family. Now, as an adult, I understand why so many people feel stressed during the“most wonderful time of the year,” as the song goes.

An annual event, my clients and I often discuss the holidays, their plans and expectations, as well as past experiences and memories from holiday gatherings. When talking about particular situations, I listen to the words each individual uses to describe the experience or expectation. More often than not, these words carry negative connotations. As a therapist, I often try to work with my clients to reframe such situations by using different words to describe the same situation. Reframing aims to provide a more positive perspective on a situation. Take, for instance, the statement, “I endure the holidays.” The word endure implies hardship and putting up with unpleasantness. I am not saying that people don't encounter unpleasant people or situations during the holidays, but if you approach a situation using different, more positive language, it can help shift your thoughts to be more positive. For example, “I managed the holidays” has an entirely different meaning than “I endured the holidays.” While “endure” implies toleration of the holidays, the word “manage” means to succeed in accomplishing, often despite difficulty or hardship, and gives the speaker more of a sense of power over stressful holiday situations. These small shifts in language help alter people's perspectives.

An example of shifting perspectives can be found in the opening scenes of the movie Love Actually, where friends, family, and lovers are seen reuniting at the airport during the holiday season. Viewers are shown the scenes that make them feel warm and happy, however, we all know that there are probably just as many disgruntled travelers who are bedraggled from missed or delayed flights, and who appear less than thrilled to be arriving into an airport terminal. Yet those negative aspects of holiday travel aren't highlighted in this movie. We can do the same for ourselves by choosing to identify and highlight the enjoyable parts of the holidays, such as catching up with old friends, and reframing negative aspects that come hand in hand with the holiday season, such as crowds when shopping.

Working to reframe experiences and expectations is not easy, however, using more positive language and choosing to think about what we do like about the holidays will lead to more optimistic thoughts and enhanced experiences in general, especially around the holidays.

Katie Anson, MA, LPC
Katie is bilingual (Spanish/English) and sees clients for individual therapy at The Awakening Center. She can be reached at (773) 929-6262 x23.

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