We Are Offering Phone & Video Counseling! Book Your Session Now

Holiday Cheer from the Inside Out

The holiday season is generally revered as the most wonderful time of the year. But some may say that they don’t always share this same sentiment. It’s true that the holiday season is rife with consumerism– adverts, sales, and elaborate store displays hang in the backdrop amidst busy and eager shoppers. While the season is meant to be about spending time with loved ones, it is often a time of mixed emotions, stress, pressures to make others happy, and yet, genuine holiday cheer seems to hang in the air.

What feelings do you attribute to the holiday season? Is it delight, joy, excitement? Or maybe it is an emotion that one typically wouldn’t expect, like dread, anxiety, or grief? Whatever you may experience this holiday season, remember that how you feel contains important information for your own stress management. And, you may be more in control of your mental health than you think.

Expectations Shape Perception

Many people associate the holiday season with family gatherings, social bonding, delicious food and drinks, and plenty of opportunities to celebrate. These expectations prime our brain for feeling holiday cheer.

Curious researchers have posed the question of whether holiday cheer is a genuine feeling or whether it is a byproduct of dazzling lights and happy faces across commercials. They found that not only viewing holiday-themed advertisements increased the feeling of joy, but also merely thinking about the holidays evoked a cheerful mood in their subjects. Apparently, our previous experiences of the holiday season create associations for how we expect the future to pan out, as well as affect our mood and how we might behave.

Did you know?

Retail companies usually know these psychology hacks, which is why they play upbeat holiday music earlier in the season and sprinkle sale advertisements throughout their stores- because they know that the happier we feel, the more likely we are to spend money.

The Way Emotions Are Made

assortment of candy brings holiday cheer

Our emotions are formed through an intricate process of combining information from our past experiences, our physiological sensations, and cues from our environment. Information from these combined sources forms an emotional state inside of you, which is personal to your unique experience. The mind puts together all this information and labels it as the emotion you are feeling.

For instance, if your parent has passed away recently, you may be looking back and remembering your past holidays together, sensing a heaviness in your chest as you anticipate how this year will be spent differently, amongst all the festivities that will still continue without them. In this scenario, we might expect that sadness would be an emotion you feel this holiday season, as well as perhaps grief and anger.

If family gatherings haven’t been very enjoyable for you and instead, have been a source of disappointment and stress in your life, we would expect that an emotion you might be feeling is anxiety or dread. Whatever you feel is shaped by your experiences, and is unique to your own life.

The Role of Complex Emotions

Scientists say that we actually have only a small number of core emotions. These include sadness, happiness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust. These core emotions are combined to create higher-order or “complex” emotions such as jealousy, regret, love, and grief.

Emotions are also considered neural sensors which indicate an instinctual need. Our basic emotions are more closely tied to our basic needs such as food and water, housing, safety from harm, and necessary provisions, whereas complex emotions are more concerned with higher needs for our quality of life, our relationships with others, and making meaning from our experiences.

For example, the feeling of grief is usually tied to sadness, fear, and anger. This may be why experts say there are several stages of grief that we go through- our process of feeling mixed and distinct emotions are not always linear stages but rather, they can be thought of as tides in the ocean or a windy road with many stops and circular turns.

The Wrap Up

We know that the mind is pretty powerful. Our prior experiences will influence our thoughts and feelings, and even how we will act. The associations we make between our expectations and emotions will shape how we view reality.
Reflecting on this, we may consider that our experiences are deterministic and we are at the mercy of our thoughts and emotions. However, we are more in control of our lives than we often give ourselves credit for. Remembering why you celebrate is a good place to start when you want to be sure that you are in the driver’s seat of your own holiday experience and feel genuine cheer. Researchers remind us that we may not always be in control of our thoughts and feelings, but we can live life according to our values, and whatever is most important to us will be the best guideposts for living a life of meaning and purpose. In fact, happiness, joy, and other positive emotions are usually happy consequences of living in the moment as are working through steps that get you closer to your goals.
decorations like this pine garland give people a feeling of holiday cheer

This holiday season, check-in with how you are feeling and why that might be. When it comes to taking care of yourself and making the most of this holiday season, it will be beneficial for you and your loved ones to identify what your values are. These inferences can help you manage your stress and live out these next few months in a way that’s most aligned with what is important to you. May this holiday season be one that’s filled with genuine happiness and joy, from our family here at Aspire Neuropsychological Services to yours!