Thursday, February 22 , 2018, 12:37 pm | Fair 60º


Jonathan Lukas: Put Happy in Your Holidays

Basking in moments of joy will make bouts of anxiety, depression or loneliness bearable

As we come upon Christmas and New Year’s, it’s not uncommon to experience those holiday blues. Whether it’s anxiety, depression, melancholy or loneliness, it feels painful and reminds us how quickly our emotional states can change.

Jonathan Lukas
Jonathan Lukas

There are so many triggers for most people, and during the holidays they become so much more amplified. We imagine that others are smiling and laughing around the tree surrounded by friends and family. We engage in the futile and painful process of comparing ourselves to others, which almost always leaves us wishing for more in our lives and envious of others who we are convinced have it so much better. We remind ourselves how far we are from where we wish to be in our lives. When we turn on the TV or other media outlets, there is blaring evidence of what others have and what we are missing.

What I often say to clients is that it can be a blessing and a curse to have a brain that is so complex that we can have the ability to do amazing and wonderful things and also the ability to think ourselves into terrifying, lonely or hopeless places. How is it that some people use their brains so productively while others seem to stew in negative emotional states, leaving them feeling angry and alone? What I do know through experience with both positive and negative feeling states is that happiness comes to us in moments, and sadness, loneliness, fear and anger just seem to last longer.

For example, when I bite into a piece of chocolate, I feel pleasure for a short moment in time. When the sun comes out and I go for a walk, I notice for a moment a sense of really being alive. When my child runs to me for a hug, I feel a tremendous sense of love. I try to make those moments last as long as possible, but I know that they are moments in time.

When we overlook these little spurts of joy and focus solely on what is missing in our lives, we find that the anxiety, loneliness and sadness aren’t just blips in time but lingering painful reminders of what we see as unique to us. We actually become so involved in the thoughts that they feel never-ending and often lead to behaviors that intensify those feelings. Do you ever find that you drink more, pop more pills or engage in other unhealthy behaviors to try to reduce the negative feelings? There might even be a momentary reprieve from the torment only to return soon after the effects of our self-medicating wears off. Or the self-medicating, such as alcohol, only increases the negative feelings.

Remember that when you are depressed, taking depressants is likely to increase the feelings you’re trying to bury. When you’re anxious and try to reduce the anxiety with mind-altering drugs, you’re likely to find that the anxiety gets worse because the anxiety-producing thoughts become more intense and distressing. In other words: Stop fighting yourself!

Instead of comparing ourselves, especially during the holiday season, accept that you have a tendency to do this and remember to acknowledge that we don’t really know what that other person (whether a celebrity or anyone else) is personally going through in their life. We don’t know what they feel when they’re alone with their thoughts. We see only a perfect image of that person that our mind produces. When we are watching TV or reading a magazine, we are only given the information that the media outlet wants us to have.

Our perceptions of others are based on our feelings about ourselves. When we are depressed, anxious, lonely and fearful, we imagine that our pain is so unique, and these thoughts are reinforced by the people we compare ourselves to. Do you ever catch yourself saying, “They have it so good” or “Why can’t I be happy like that?” or even the dreaded “I must be cursed.” When we compare ourselves, it’s almost inevitable that we will be left feeling less confident, more self-critical and mostly unhappy with the direction of our lives. We engage in black-and-white thinking, catastrophic interpretations and find ourselves digging deeper into negative-thinking states. Then I ask, “How does comparing yourself to others serve you?”

During the holidays, the comparing, coupled with our daily lives, our relationships with family and friends, and our general outlook on life, all contribute to how we feel about ourselves and our place in this world. I know from experience that the best way to get out of our heads when the sadness, anxiety or anger builds is to do something about it. In other words, when you’re sitting alone stewing, get up and open the front door and step outside. Take a deep breathe and observe what’s in front of you. Now step outside your front door and take a short walk, and when you notice that burst of energy, keep walking and you might even start to enjoy being outside. When the walk is over, spend a little time writing about what it felt like to do something different.

Go into the kitchen and start thinking about something you would love to eat and begin cooking. If you don’t have the ingredients, then go to the market. You will no longer be alone in your home but in the supermarket around people. Smile even if you don’t feel like smiling. Let yourself be in the moment. Literally smell the coffee in the coffee aisle. Buy some fresh fruit and even your favorite snack food, and don’t forget the ingredients for your favorite meal. Cooking is very stimulating, and all of your senses are being used. One thing you might notice is that you’re feeling a little happier, a little less anxious, and maybe your appetite is being stimulated. Turn off the TV and put on some music. Call someone you haven’t talked to in awhile and wish them happy holidays.

Most importantly, accept that no one is happy all of the time. Everyone feels lonely now and then. Even billionaires sometimes compare themselves to others. Remember that when you get stuck perseverating about others, that you don’t have any idea what they are feeling, or if they are as happy as you think they are. Wish them well in your thoughts and move on to more important things like feeling the rain on your face, thinking about what you are great at, knowing there is no one else like you, remembering that your family loves you, that there is probably someone out there comparing themselves to you, and that baby steps are a great way to get from point A to point B.

Happy holidays!

Jonathan Lukas MFT is a psychotherapist specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy. He is in private practice and runs The OCD Treatment Center of Santa Barbara, working with adolescents and adults with anxiety disorders. Click here for more information or call 805.453.2347.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >