Six Strategies for Emotional Sobriety over the Holidays

This time of year, with its seeming emphasis of “Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All” can nonetheless be a very challenging  time for many.  It can dredge up memories from early years that included alcoholism, poverty, stress and/or disappointment.  It can put current pressures on us to conform to spending sprees that impress and live up to others’ expectations.  And last but not least by any stretch of the imagination, it is a time of increased intake of alcohol and drugs as the “celebrations” multiply.  All of this means that it is smart to pay close attention to how you are navigating this Holiday time in order to preserve and even enhance your emotional sobriety.

Here are six simple strategies I want to share with you that can make a real difference:

1. Stay Present

It’s easy to get swept up by the busyness of this time of year and forget to slow down enough to check in with ourselves. In order to be able to meet the wave of pressure you may feel, practice being more mindful. Remember – if you stay connected to yourself – to your breath and body, you will  “know” what YOU want and what is best for you. There is a lot happening inside of you, in the way of sensations and changes that will tell you if something or someone is stressing you out. Make a real effort to pay attention to these signals to guide and inform you to do only what brings you true happiness and peace of mind. Because there is a lot more ‘imbibing’ of alcohol and other party substances, it’s so important to know when you are feeling triggered and to take action that protects your physical and emotional sobriety.  In order to do this, you must stay present.

2. Stay Connected

Support-GroupHuman beings are neurologically wired for connection with other human beings.  It’s how we know who we are from birth onward. It’s also what helps us regulate distress when we are anxious, afraid, lonely or sad.  We need others – and we need them to be caring, loving and supportive in order for us to feel safe enough to open up and show our true selves to the world. Make time to connect with those family members, coworkers and friends who support you for who you are.  Go to more 12 step meetings than you usually do, or attend  your Church or Synagogue or any other group which has liked-minded values. Just being together with others who care will increase your sense of belonging, and in doing so, will release soothing neuro-chemicals that actually make you feel better. Be sure you are talking to your loved ones about how you are doing and reaching out to them when more support is needed. If you are struggling emotionally and can’t muster good feelings, find others who can and follow them around.  Being in the company of happy people can be contagious.

3. Create Healthy Rituals

If the Holidays are loaded with negatively-charged memories for you, you may have decided to just avoid this whole time of year.  While that is certainly an option, in making this choice you also create a void in your life. By focusing your energy on avoiding something unpleasant, you miss a potential opportunity for new positive connections and memories to be built. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood, but it takes being willing to invest in creating pleasant experiences in our current lives that can replace the old, hurtful ones. If this interests you and you are curious about what is possible, why not let your imagination soar in order to introduce new rituals that are based on loving connections and healthy fun. Think outside the box and give yourself permission to spend the Holidays any way you like, provided it creates a sense of importance and is joyful for everyone involved.  Plan a sleep over party with your best friend(s).  Buy yourself an awesome gift. Go carolling or driving around the city to look at the lights.  Have a hot chocolate party and play games.  “We can add to the list ad infinitum…”

4. Give Gifts of Meaning

Knowing how and when to give” is a beautiful quotation from the book “, Alcoholics Anonymous and refers to the christmas-presentsimportance of putting the ego aside and accepting that you cannot be all things to all people.  In the Holiday context it really means replacing the idea of buying because we are “supposed to” (guilt and obligation)  towards a reflection about how our gifts communicate our deepest care about the other.  You may be thinking that this would eliminate some of those whom you really don’t feel intimate with, even if they are on the “supposed to” list.  And yet, being more authentic to yourself, you might discover that finding something special for someone that is meaningful rather than expensive, can bring back some delight into the ‘spirit of giving’. Often it is true that ‘less is more’ and I love it as a reminder at this time of year, so that the Holidays do not financially burden you well into the new year.  Being able to replace ‘cost’ with ‘thoughtfulness’ can truly deepen your connection with both yourself (what matters to you) and with those you love.

5. Generate Joy  

You are probably not in the habit of thinking of yourself as a generator – but you are.  Too often we are in “receive” mode and reliant upon the moods and generosity of others, to determine our own inner state of being.  In fact, if we have a difficult interaction with someone that upsets us, we can press our “reset” button to something in order to put aside the negative mood and approach a more joyful state of mind.  That’s not to say we can’t feel our upset, but once it’s done, we can reassert our boundaries and make decisions about how to generate more joy.  Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”.  I think this time of year can be an opportunity for each of us to take personal responsibility for spreading joyful interaction, generosity of spirit and kindness towards all, even those who are the most challenging.

6. Practice Peace

A student once asked her master, “How will we ever realize world peace when there is so much war still going on?”  The Master told her to think about it like this: “If the earth was covered in spikes and you want a smooth path to walk on, you could cover the entire earth with leather – so that everywhere you went, it would be smooth under your feet.  But that would be a near impossible task and take an inordinate amount of time.  Instead, you could put on a pair of leather sandals, and then everywhere you walked, it would be smooth under your feet.”  The message of course is that each of us can spread peace in our world if we have peace within.  serenity-and-massageThis means taking time to pray and meditate regularly so that you can connect with the Source of omnipresent  power, peace and knowledge.  Doing mindfulness practices like yoga, meditation, tai chi, etc. helps us to develop an inner calm that translates into making better decisions in times of stress. Everything we do flows from our relationship with ourselves.Throughout the day, practice acts of kindness with yourself, so there is no pressure for you to be anything more than you are in this moment.  Give yourself permission to be imperfect and love yourself for it.


Wishing you and your loved ones an emotionally sober, joyful Holiday Season.

Sue Signature






Are you as smart as an 8 Year old?

Unexpected Surprises 

I love brain science.  It fascinates me and I appreciate how much it helps us to understand why we do the things we do – both the things that are troublesome  and the things that excite our imaginations. We now know that we can change and grow our brains and therefore change what we do and how we feel.

One evening, my daughter, Kristi, was sharing about the benefits of meditation on the brain.  She is currently enrolled in a stress reduction course that is teaching her mindfulness practices. My 8 year old grandson, Josh, who was sitting nearby, piped up and asked us, “Are you talking about the amygdala?”  We were dumbfounded by his comment!



Our Brains Explain Our Behaviour

brain-basic_and_limbicWhile we were reeling from the awareness that he knew and could pronounce such a scientific term, he went on to explain what he’s learning in his grade 3 class. “My teacher told us that when we are in our amygdala, we do not make good decisions and it’s when I am goofing around with my friends.  When I focus attention to my school work and get it done on time, then I’m in my pre-frontal cortex. We also make better decisions in our prefrontal cortex. Our hippocampus is the part we use to remember our math and other things we are learning.” He went on to explain how she uses “a chime” both first thing in the morning and after lunch to “get us into our prefrontal cortex.”  The kids are asked to sit cross legged and close their eyes and listen to the sound of the chime. This helps them to calm the brain so that they can approach their tasks not feeling overwhelmed by the stimulation in the room. Kristi was both impressed and humbled, realizing that her son appeared to have a better handle on how his brain worked than she did.

Soothing Distress 

If you have children then you know how emotionally volatile life can be for them.  Children’s emotional states change in an instant as they get  easily triggered and emotionally overwhelmed by life’s events. When children are left to fend for themselves during these times they cannot calm down on their own.  In my family, we could have expected to hear “stop crying” or told “don’t you dare speak to me that way”. These responses are not helpful in soothing distress and they also trigger fear. Fear is stored in the amygdala. When children don’t have the emotional support they need to off load their distress along with healthy limits to help them feel safe, they develop coping mechanisms which lead to either acting out or shutting down.

Brain science teaches us what highjacks our peace & serenity and how to self-regulate in times of trouble. Teaching children basic mindfulness meditation techniques excites me!  Meditation changes the brain in many positive ways.  It builds up the areas that are associated with positive feelings – like happiness and hope for a brighter future.  At the same time, it shrinks the parts of our brain that is associated with worry and regret.  It teaches us to concentrate better, to slow down our impulses and to be calmer and more confident in life.

In fact, click the link below to watch this short video to see why meditation will soon be an important daily activity.

It seems that it is becoming more common for school curriculums to include time for teaching mindfulness to children.  If this seems important to you, then take time to find out if your child’s school is doing it and if not, are they open to exploring the possibility.


Many adults understand how early emotional trauma or neglect can have long term effects. Adults bring these early copying styles (fighting, fleeing or resentfully complying) into their marriages or significant relationships – thereby unknowingly reenacting the emotional trauma with their partners.  Learning techniques for calming yourself is one tool in becoming more emotionally connected to yourself and others in order to stop this painful replaying of the past. As a regular meditator I can’t say enough about the benefits I receive which allows me to run a busy practice, travel a lot and spend time with family and friends.

If you thought the information in this video made sense, and you are an adult who has difficulty self-regulating your emotions, ask yourself if you can begin some type of mindfulness practice.  Start to pay attention to what triggers you to lose your temper, feel anxious or even disconnected from others.  Go to a local bookstore or shop online for a cd or reading material that resonates with you and helps you learn to calm your amygdala.  Let us know what you find that is helpful so we can share it with others.

Wishing you all the best on your journey to ever more emotional health.

Sue SignatureUnknown