by Carrie Laymon

Some people love the holiday season. Others dread it. Wherever we fall within this spectrum, the holiday season can serve as an opportunity for us to develop greater awareness of our issues and new possibilities to resolve them.

Stress arises when our personality traits, relationships and life circumstances do not always conform to idealized visions or others’ expectations of us. Rather than honoring our own preferences and needs, we allow our minds and/or others to dictate how we “should” feel and what we “should” do. We then feel guilty for feeling the way we really do; and at least at some level, we feel angry for relinquishing our personal power and truth.

Both unacknowledged anger, and anger suppressed and turned inward, often manifest outwardly as depression. This is one of the reasons the symptoms of depression become so prevalent during holiday seasons.

So how can the circumstances of your holidays enhance your personal growth and life balance?

If you are one who always dreads this time of year, perhaps it is time to stop the cycle, clear old patterns, and move on. The first thing we must do is acknowledge to ourselves how we really feel about events, activities and circumstances we face at holiday time, and begin to see how we create stress for ourselves about these.

For many, holidays involve facing family conflict and relationship issues. When there is conflict, what is always at the core is a conflict within ourselves. It may seem as though a relationship issue cannot be resolved because painful events of the past cannot be changed, or another person is unwilling to cooperate.

In some cases, this may be true. If so, it is important to know that, although we may be unable to change the other person or their actions, we can change how the situation impacts us through a shift in our own perception within. It is not what happens to us in life, but how we perceive it that determines our experience.

This always involves personal empowerment and taking whatever steps are necessary to love ourselves for who we are at the moment and to learn to allow others to be who they are choosing to be at this time. We may always have aspects of ourselves that we would like to change, but we must internalize the knowing that this is why we are here. We are here to experience who we are in the moment and to use our awareness of this to expand beyond and make new choices.

When we let go of the inner conflict that activates our emotional triggers and shift our perceptions, the same environment, person, or situation can exist with an entirely different impact on us. Or we may decide that our participation within an environment or situation is no longer acceptable and choose to remove ourselves from it with a clear conscience.

Sometimes this may involve having the courage to be the first to forgive or to show a compassionate heart. It may mean shifting out of judgment or the tendency to want to change others to conform to our picture of reality. At other times, it may mean surrendering to the fact that we are responsible only for following where the energy of our own heart leads us, and not for how others choose to respond to this.

Many times, we do not take action because we are afraid of how others may respond to us. When we are finally able to move through the fear, we find that it was totally unfounded—that the person just didn’t realize how we felt, or that they were as anxious as we were to resolve an issue but were also hindered by the same unfounded fear of how we would respond to them.

Our responsibility is to express our feelings, needs and intents with love and compassion. If others are unable to accept this, we cannot hold responsibility for their choices and feelings about it. We must accept this and hold a loving space for the potential of things changing in the future.

Often, when we state our truth or refuse to allow others to activate our emotional triggers, they eventually shift as well. When we no longer play into the old patterns and respond in the expected way, the other person is forced to find new ways of dealing with us.

For some of us, the biggest challenge may be setting boundaries or creating a balance between giving and receiving. How many of you go deeply into debt every year because you “have” to buy gifts for everyone, or because you are pressured beyond your means to keep up with what you believe are the expectations of more financially wealthy friends or family members?

How many of you stress yourselves physically, emotionally, and mentally with holiday shopping when you really hate to shop, or with holiday cooking when you hate to cook? Do you feel that you must buy a gift for every friend or distant cousin who happened to give one to you just because they did?

If any of these resonate, stop for a minute and feel what honestly brings you joy and what brings you distress. We stop stress and distress in their tracks when we follow what truly brings us joy and contentment and leave to others what brings them joy. Joy in giving comes only when it is done freely without expectations attached.

If you are one who loves the holidays, stop for a minute and examine whether you may be contributing to another’s holiday dread by imposing your definition of joy on them. If your sense of a “good” holiday is tied to whether others meet your expectations, a realization of this may offer an opportunity to expand into a larger awareness of love and acceptance.

The real goal is to embody the qualities of joy, love, good will and generosity into the flow of our every day lives at all times. Embrace the spirit of holidays in gratitude and celebration with an understating that these qualities are meant to enhance our lives each and every day.