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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

  1. Don’t Judge Me, Even if I Behave Like a Lunatic

    December 13, 2015 by Diane

    In our head, there lives a judge who passes judgment on ourselves. We can knock our skull with our fists and stuff a finger in our ears and sing “tra-la-la-la-la” to drown out the voice, and still it drones on about our shortcomings and mistakes. This judge issues pronouncements from its perch in our head, and if we choose to cower under its assault (and we do have that choice), then off we go to a jail of our own making.

    And behind those bars, we sit in judgment of others.

    When others make judgments of us, we might manage to shrug it off, send them a blessing for living in their own private world of hurt. But there are times, like in the midst of Christmas shopping, when we dig in our heels and lash out, which is what happened on a Friday evening at 5:00 in a Ross Dress-for-Less.

    I was browsing the sweaters when I heard a commotion behind me, a woman yelling for a manager, demanding the phone number of corporate headquarters, threatening one and all with: “I’m never shopping here again!”—which might have earned applause storewide, but the woman, when I glanced over, was gargantuan, and seething, and she was flinging the contents of her shopping cart onto the floor, blouses and pajamas and slippers and flip flops and purses and decorative boxes, all her Christmas stash into the aisles, and no one in the vicinity wanted to attract her attention.

    A woman of smaller dimensions stood beside her; a friend, I presumed, as she added her own two-cents worth, dumping her vitriol on a clerk:

    “Do you realize how it sounds, talking about a customer when they can hear? Do you know what that sounds like? And did you apologize?”

    “No,” said the clerk who stood ramrod straight, without a hint of blushing.

    “And you kept interrupting! You didn’t even listen when we tried to explain.”

    “I’ll get the phone number for headquarters,” said the clerk, making haste for the registers.

    “I want your name!” The seething woman added. “I’m going to report you!” She had emptied the cart completely, and gave it a shove into a clothing rack. Then she zeroed in on me. Her face loomed close.

    “Don’t judge me,” she said, and pushed past, issuing a parting judgment of her own. “Cunt.”

    Quick as a whip, I blurted, “Excuse me?” I wasn’t about to let this slur from a stranger slip by.

    “Stop judging me.”

    “I wasn’t judging you.”

    “Oh yes you were!”

    And there we stood, having it out over the racks in Ross Dress-for-Less. I envisioned her taking a swing at me, and me swinging back, and the two of us tussling in the aisles, pulling sweaters from their hangers, toppling the displays, tumbling onto her scattered merchandise as her friend tried to yank us apart.

    All because neither one of us wanted to be judged by someone we would never see again.

    Then I caught a glimpse of my face in the full-length mirror at the end of the aisle. The raised eyebrows. The pinched mouth. By jove, she’s right.

    Tsk, tsk, said the judge in my head.

    The woman continued ranting until her friend pulled her from the store. I allowed sufficient time for the crazy woman to drive away, and then slunk to my car, keeping an eye out in case she was waiting in ambush.

    In my head, the judge was having a field day.

    “That was a mistake, engaging with an irate nincompoop. Don’t engage, and the other person has nothing to engage with. An enlightened person would have remembered that. A sane person would have kept her mouth shut.”

    Blah blah blah, on and on, talking about me as if I wasn’t within earshot.

  2. When Panic Attacks, Duck! Tips for Surviving the Holidays

    December 6, 2015 by Diane

    Santa Claus

    Holidays can be stressful, whether you struggle with anxiety or not. But with a sensitive nervous system, all of the hustle and bustle of the season can be the tipping point that sends you into full-blown panic. Here are my tips on how to survive the holidays, and what to do if panic does attack.

    1. Pace yourself

    Christmas is a time of giving and receiving. Don’t give all of your energy to buying and wrapping presents, standing in lines, driving from mall to mall, and attending every party you’re invited to attend. All of these activities will zap whatever energy you’ve got if you don’t allow yourself downtime. Here’s where the receiving comes in. Receive the gift of slacking off in front of the television with a bowl of popcorn. Receive the gift of letting other people do some of the shlepping around. Receive the gift of taking a nap, or a long hot bath, or drinking a glass of wine, your feet in slippers, a good book at hand. And forget about perfection. Kick that demon to the curb. Whatever gift you choose, whatever meal you plan, is good enough.

    2. Take care

    Are you eating well? Exercising? Getting enough sleep? Spending time in nature or in some other sacred space? You’ll need to make an extra effort to take care of yourself when the stress of holidays is upon you. Sweets are plentiful, but limit the sugar, as it feeds anxiety. Ditto for caffeine. Cold weather may keep you indoors, but you can still do some stretching, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, calisthenics, or just dance around the living room in your pjs to release tension. Maintain a sleep schedule, and include a pre-sleep ritual like turning off the tv, cell phone and computer a half hour before you slip under the covers. And try to keep the volume down on the radio. Noise batters the nerves, too.

    3. Slow down

    Tis’ the season to feel rushed. What’s a body to do? Sloooooooow doooooooown. Make all of your movements slower. Walk, talk, whatever it is you’re doing, do it at a more leisurely pace. This will help to calm your heart, unclench your muscles, and lower your blood pressure.

    4. Be mindful

    Instead of thinking about all of the tasks ahead of you, bring your attention to the present moment. Focus on what you’re doing, like a camera zooming in for a close-up. Time will seem to expand, and you’ll feel less overwhelmed.

    5. Ask for help

    Don’t try to cook the whole meal, hang all the decorations, do all the dishes, or anything else involved in setting the scene, all by yourself. If others offer, accept their help. If they don’t, then prod those lazy duffs off the couch and march them into the kitchen. Many hands make for light work. And it’s a lot more fun.

    6. If panic attacks, duck

    Not under the table, into the fetal position. Duck out—to the bathroom, for some deep breathing. Step outside for some fresh air and a larger perspective. Take a walk, play with the kids. Or just start in on those dishes in the kitchen.

    7. Express what you’re feeling

    It’s probably not a good idea, as you’re serving the ham, to announce to the room: “I’m having a panic attack.” But you might want to seek out someone you trust and tell them what’s going on. Why? It lets off some of the pressure that anxiety builds up. You don’t have to suffer alone.

    8. Talk to somebody who’s sympathetic

    Not the family member who’s liable to say: “Snap out of it!” Not the relative who’s uncomfortable with his own emotions, let alone yours. Instead, find someone who understands what you’re going through. It’s a good bet that over half the people gathered together (probably more) deal with anxiety. You only need to find one of those fellow sufferers to talk to. Pull that person aside and say: “I’m feeling anxious right now and can’t seem to shake it.”

    9. Distract yourself

    Count how many red and green objects are in the room. Juggle the Christmas tree ornaments. Take notes on how your family behaves after a few stiff drinks. You can use the information in your next novel. Find someone who looks more frazzled than you, and do something to make them feel less so. Try not to make it all about you, or your anxiety, even though it feels that way.

    10. Be the observer

    Observe the action going on around you as if you are the calm, still center of the storm. Observe your panic go up and down in intensity. Observe yourself observing yourself, as if you are standing in the back of a movie theater, watching yourself in the third row, watching your life on the screen.

    Remember…this too will pass. The anxiety, the day. And when it does, pat yourself on the back for having survived.

  3. Thinking Distortion # 2: Either/Or Thinking

    December 16, 2013 by Diane

    Distorted thinking

    Here’s the hypothetical…

    It’s Christmas. You’ve spent the last two weeks getting ready for the in-laws and your extended family to descend upon the house. Your husband wrestled the wooden sleigh-and-reindeer display from the garage and your son peeled himself from the couch long enough to nail a wreath to the front door, then you all drove to Santa’s Tree Lot and spent an hour bickering over which tree to buy. You made four trips to the mall to buy gifts and wrapping paper and tape and ribbon and bows, and you stocked up on eggnog and booze and sparkling cider. You bought a ham and sweet potatoes and green beans and Cream of Mushroom Soup for that goopy casserole that Uncle Joe loves, even though Uncle Joe is a pain in the…

    Hold on.

    That’s jumping ahead in the list of thinking distortions, to number seven: Name-calling.

    Let’s stick to one distortion at a time.

    You set the table with the best silver and linen napkins, and by God this day better be perfect, you tell yourself, because last year was awful; you all had colds and stayed home in bed, fuming. So nothing better go wrong!

    But things do.

    Uncle Joe is late. As usual. So you keep everything snug in the oven, thinking it’s on warm, but it’s on high because one of your cousin’s kids fiddled with the knobs, and soon the ham and that goopy casserole are smoking up the house. You grab the potholders and pull the burnt ham from the oven and it falls on the floor and shoots across the waxed linoleum and the day is ruined. RUINED! You should have never taken this on, you’re a failure and everyone knows it.

    That’s Either/Or thinking. Believing that situations are either wonderful or a complete disaster. That you’re either perfect or a waste of human skin.

    Look at it this way…

    That black mound that your Uncle Joe is now kicking around the floor…it’s a crispy dead pig, not the ruination of your life.

    Order a pizza.

    It’ll probably be your best Christmas ever.

    But let’s say you’re not hosting a shindig. You live alone. You don’t have the money to fly clear across the country to see your family, or send gifts. You’re spending Christmas night alone at Denny’s eating over-salted slices of turkey and watery mashed potatoes pooled in gravy because you have a free coupon. It’s grim. It’s awful. Christmas is just an overblown retail holiday, you mutter. Bah humbug. You feel like a failure because you can’t even afford a cheap tie for your father.

    You’re not a failure. You’re short on funds. At the moment. Set it aside for now. Smile at the waitress, who’s spending her Christmas serving a grump.

    And come July, when you have extra cash in your pocket and you spy that Zen-like miniature golf game in the bookstore where you’re browsing and you think of your dad, who loves miniature golf, and this game is really miniature—the clubs only two inches high—and you picture him sitting at his desk teeing off…buy it. Send it along with a note.

    Merry Christmas!

    Thinking of you.

    With love,


    It’ll be his best Christmas ever.