Mind the Trap this Holiday Season

Lara Noik, Circles Facilitator

It’s the holiday season! You should be happy, right? At this time of year, there seem to be a lot of ‘shoulds’ in the air. There are also a lot of ‘always’, ‘nevers’, and a whole bunch of other mind traps. Mind traps refer to irrational thought patterns that we all experience. They are often extremely self-critical, judgemental, and unhelpful to our emotional wellbeing. They are also mostly untrue!

Here are some examples of common mind traps around this time of year and possible ways that we can challenge them.

Mind trap: What is wrong with me that I am not looking forward to being with my family?

Challenge: For a lot of people being with family is not a simple matter at all. Family dynamics can be tricky a lot of the time. It may feel like there is an emotional trigger around every corner. There is nothing like being with one’s family that seems to elicit our unresolved childhood issues. There is nothing wrong with feeling some trepidation for upcoming family time. Perspective, self-care, and healthy boundaries, where possible, go a long way!

Mind trap: I must be the only person alone this holiday session 

Challenge: In fact, the statistics indicate that there are many who find themselves alone at this time of year and all year round in fact. There are also people who feel alone even when they are surrounded by well-meaning people. This can at times feel like the worst kind of loneliness. It is therefore extremely valuable that there are forums and ways to connect to other people in similar situations. Especially at this time of year. E.g., Circles is offering free support groups right through this period.

Mind trap: I should be grateful that its Xmas

Challenge: ‘Shoulding’ on yourself is not a good idea. The judgmental nature of these type of thoughts are unhelpful and can leave us feeling inadequate. They make us feel bad, not only about the situation but about ourselves as well. The opposite of this is acceptance. How about accepting whatever it is that we are feeling without judgment? Self-love and acknowledgment serve as the perfect antidotes to this mind trap.

Mind trap: I’m not going to cope

Challenge: We repeatedly underestimate just how resilient we are. I often ask my clients and groups members if someone would have tapped them on the shoulder a year ago, and told them what was in store, would they have thought that they would have been able to manage at all? The answer is usually an adamant ‘No’. Yet here you are! We don’t know how strong we are until we know how strong we are. It is often life’s adversities that are the greatest teachers in this respect.

There are a whole host of mind traps that we fall into every day. The problem is not that we have them. That is human! The problem occurs when we don’t challenge the thoughts, but the opposite; we believe them and allow them to take root and flourish.

What do you do when you are stuck in a trap?

Jamie Smart, the author of the bestselling self-help book Clarity, says that the first step to getting out of any trap is to realize that you are in one in the first place! I find this extremely helpful. It allows us to be curious about our thinking. We don’t necessarily have to change our thoughts, but understanding that what looks like a very real assessment of your life right now, may in fact not be true at all. It may just be an irrational and transient thought. A mind trap. And once we see it for what it is, perhaps it ceases to have the power over us that it once had.

Mind traps can seem very real. But they are not. And with a little questioning and challenging they will pass, leaving us freer, kinder, wiser, and better able to navigate the ups and downs of the holiday season and life in general.

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