Mastering Holiday Feelings 2018

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the US.  It is a Holiday where many of us get together with family, eat too much turkey and watch football on TV all day.

It used to be that Thanksgiving marked the transition to Christmas.  When I was growing up, you didn’t see Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving.  Well, as you are reading this, I can guarantee you’ve been exposed to Christmas (and even Santa Claus) in all the shopping malls, in ads on TV and through numerous catalogs you’ve received in the mail.

Whether this is a positive phenomenon or not is certainly debatable.  But, it isn’t my focus here.

I want to focus on Holiday feelings.

Hopefully, the feelings you experience are happy, joy, gratitude, and serenity as you reflect on being with family, getting and receiving good tidings (or gifts) and so forth.

But, it is entirely possible that the feelings you may experience are anxiety, guilt or anger.  These feelings can ruin your holiday spirit.  Anger, if directed at you by another or directed by you at someone else can possibly be dangerous.

Mastering your own and the emotions of others.

In  my first Amazon book Emotions as Tools: Control Your Life not Your Feelings, I discuss the Emotions as Tools Model and address specific emotions such as anger, anxiety, fear, guilt and shame.

In my second book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool, I focus specifically on anger.

Both books are Amazon Best sellers.

To help you get the most out of your feelings this holiday, it is important to note that the function of all feelings is to both alert you to situations in your surroundings which require your attention and prepare you to take whatever action is necessary to deal with the situation facing you.

The “alert” you get from the feeling is the message of that emotion. The initial preparation is an automatic reaction your body does for (and to) you.

Mastering an emotion involves understanding the message of the feeling, assessing the nature of the situation in which you find yourself and the extent to which your reality matches the initial perception which elicited the emotion and choosing an effective response.


So, the message of feelings like happy and gratitude is that the surroundings you are experiencing are positive, maybe growth enhancing, and worthy of your attention and involvement.  The response you will choose to these feelings in engagement.


The message  of anxiety is that there MAY be a threat in the future that MAY hurt me in some way.

If you are worried about anything this holiday season, that’s anxiety.

  • Did you get the right gift?
  • Should you send a card to Aunt Suzie?
  • Will you spend the Holidays by yourself?

The way to master anxiety is to assess the perceived future threat and the potential of that possible future occurrence to do real damage to you.

If, as in most situations about which you are anxious, the event, should it actually take place, might be uncomfortable or mildly damaging, but it is most likely survivable.  If it is survivable (doesn’t kill you or cause irreparable harm), then you have at least two choices about how you adaptively respond to the anxiety.

If you can do something to mitigate or impact the future about which you are worrying, then use your anxiety as eustress to make a plan and take action.  In other words, do something about your situation.

If you can’t really impact the future but you know you can survive it, then you can choose to let the anxiety pass and take a wait and see approach.


The message of anger is that you are facing a threat that will do you harm and that you need take action to eliminate.  You are prepared to go to war.

  • Anger during the holidays can come up in a variety of situations.
  • The instructions to the XYZ you are trying to assemble are inaccurate or hard to follow.
  • Pieces are missing from the box.
  • You got the wrong item delivered and time is running out.
  • You have lined up for a parking space in a crowded lot and some other car sneaks in and steals it.
  • You’ve been standing in line and someone cuts in front of you.
  • You get up to the register and the clerk is (inconsiderate, slow, inexperienced).
  • You go to grab the last XYZ from the shelf and someone else snatches it.

You get the idea.

The threat is to your view of how things “should”be, how people “should” act, how companies “should” do their job, and so forth.  You are pissed and ready to take on, set right, or destroy, the offending person, company, or customer service rep.

The challenge is that your anger will usually be excessive, ineffective, or misdirected.  At worse, your anger may elicit an accident, a fight in the parking lot, or security asking you to leave the store.

The way you master your own anger is to look at the situation in which you find yourself and ask whether it is worth going to war over or can you take some action to rectify the situation such as calling a manager, being patient, taking a break before going back to your construction project and so forth.

If someone is angry at you, you master their emotion by understanding that they both perceive a threat and are ready to go to war and attempting to show that you are not a threat.  You do this by both apologizing, if appropriate or asking for clarification about what you might inadvertently done.

The goal here is to protect your own well being by not raising your blood pressure, getting the project completed, avoiding a fight, or getting escorted out of the store.

This is a quick overview of mastering emotions for the holidays and should give you enough information so that your emotions don’t control you.  My suggestion is that you take a few moments and think about how these feelings might impact you and how you can choose to respond to them in a way that preserves and enhances your 2018 holiday season.

Happy Turkey Day.

The Emotional Trap of Social Comparison

Do you ever compare yourself to another person?

More likely than not, the answer is yes.

I know this because we have all done it at one point or another.

While there can be adaptive, or benefical, outcomes from social comparison, it is far more likely that comparing yourself to another person will prove to be an emotional trap.

First, the upside..

If you use your comparison as a guide to help you improve yourself, than the emotions you will feel are excitement and anticipation. You will be excited about developing a new dream or discovering a new skill or outlook that you can emulate to improve yourself in some way and you will be looking forward with anticipation to a future in which you have made the changes you have discovered.

In this process, knowing what you want to achieve, accomplish, or become serves as motivation to go out and get the information you need, acquire new skill sets, make new connections or develop a new outlook.

Now, the downside.  Or, the trap…

You compare yourself unfavorably to another person and you feel inferior, inadequate, or worthless, you could become anxious or depressed.

The trap is that when you compare yourself to someone who is richer, more skillful, better looking (or whatever characteristic you choose), you will always come out feeling inadequate.

This is a false comparison.

I did not say that you were inadequate.  You feel inadequate.

Now, suppose you choose to compare yourself to someone who is less skillful, financially successful, etc.  You look great in comparison and may feel superior.  However, this, too, is a false comparison as it says nothing about your own skills, financial situation, physical characteristics, etc.

Social comparison can be a trap because it appears to give you relevant information about yourself but only leads to a false feeling of inadequacy or superiority.

In fact, you are neither inferior or superior.  You are only you.

Let me give you an example.

When I was a psychology intern, I compared myself both to other interns who seemed more adept at engaging the client and starting a healthy therapeutic alliance.  This was not a skill I was good at.  I also compared myself to one of the supervising psychologists who was very adept at reading the tone of a therapy group and who seemed to be able, with relative ease, to decide on the best intervention to move the group forward.

Neither of these comparisons were “fair” when I made them.

Based on my comparisons, I decided (wrongly, yes, but this was my interpretation at the time) that I was not very good at doing therapy.

It was only after I started my career and had to engage my clients in therapy that my confidence grew and my skill sets improved.

In fact, I was “surprised” one day when I intuitively orchestrated a very successful intervention.  I say I was surprised because, when I thought about it, I realized that what I had done was as good or better than the Supervisor I had earlier compared myself to.   It just took me some time to develop the necessary experience and skills.

The insidious nature of social comparison can lead to depression if the comparison involves a characteristic which is both very important to you and difficult to change.

The message of depression is that you see yourself as hopeless, helpless, worthless, or some combination of these three.

If the characteristic is sufficiently important and you do not measure up, you may perceive yourself as worthless.  If change is sufficiently difficult than your perception of yourself as helpless and hopeless may grow in strength.

Social Media, today, has been widely criticized because of the tendency of others to use it as a model for making comparisons.  Young people have attempted or commuted suicide because they do not see themselves as measuring up.

While they fail to see many issues, it never occurs to these adolescents that whether they measure up or not to the social media exemplar does not reflect on themselves and secondly, that the picture painted by the social media post may not even be accurate.

If you are feeling anxious, inadequate or that you do not measure up to your own, or society’s standards,  you might try to alleviate these feelings by choosing to compare yourself to someone who is not as well off as you or who is not your “equal” in whatever category you are using to measure.

You may say something like, “Well, I’m not doing so bad, look at _____.?” or “Well, I’m a better (xyz) than _____.”

The issue here is that, while this comparison may bring you some temporary relief, it does nothing to motivate you to change.  Over time, you will once again feel inadequate, inferior, or lacking.

The type of comparison is a trap because it creates a cycle of feeling inadequate, artificially pumping yourself up with a downward comparison, and feeling inadequate again.

A healthier approach would be to master your anxiety and objectively (either by yourself, if you can, or seeking input from others) look at the comparisons you are making and the standards you are implicitly accepting as your own.

  • Do these standards tell you something about yourself that both needs changing and that you can change?
  • Are the standards you are saying you need to live up to artificial, based on someone else’s distorted view of the world, or impossible to meet?

The answers to these questions will tell you whether your anxiety is informing you of actions you need to plan for and implement or whether their really is no impending threat about which you need to stress and you can choose to ignore the standards facing you as inappropriate, unrealistic, or unimportant.

I welcome your comments.