Finding Joy this Season

By Sophia Bouwens, L.Ac., Ma.Ac.

For some of us, the holidays are full of “should’s” that leave us feeling like we’re somehow not enough. “The holiday’s should be fun”,”, “they should be about spending time with those we love”, “they should be about joy, peace and good cheer”. The list goes on..

This reflection on what *should* be with what *is*, is a damaging reinvention of the natural cycle of moving towards growth in our lives. We need contrast of what *is* with what *could* be, to grow and move forward in a positive way. However, we can turn that reflection into a measure of failure by using *should*.

At the most basic level, your body does not know the difference between being stressed about being stuck in traffic, or being chased by a bear. The stress response it illicit’s is the same. The difference is in our famous prefrontal cortex. Our prefrontal cortex allows us the ability to have influence over the level of response to have in any situation. It is the prefrontal cortex who turns the volume down on the stress response we experience in traffic, but keeps it turned up if you’re being chased by a bear.

Neurologically, our prefrontal cortex allows us the capability to have perspective. It is also our prefrontal cortex that we have *conscious* influence over.

In order to do this though, our nervous system needs to know it’s perceptions are accurate. To your nervous system, the stress of detecting internal error is one of the most devastating phenomenon we experience. There is nothing more stressful to our nervous system than the awareness of an internal error, and failure to be able to trust itself. In fact, it will work a number of ways to help trick itself by altering the reality it’s reading, just to keep functioning. This is known as negative plasticity.

You see, the stress of what should be but isn’t, is one of the most powerful stressors we encounter. Whether it’s conscious or unconscious this stress shuts down the prefrontal cortex powerfully and takes away our power to rely on ourselves and trust the world around us. Consequently, “should” is one of the biggest ways we, unknowingly work against ourselves. *Should* takes away our power over what *could* be used to help us learn and grow, and turn it upside down into a weight that keeps us stuck in a reality that is skewed.

There is good news in this though! Because of our prefrontal cortex, we have the power to influence our nervous systems consciously and direct the appropriate responses. It is when we slow down, that we can choose our thoughts and our responses. The hard news is that this requires intentional, often uncomfortable effort.

  • So, what does this mean for each of us this holiday season? It means that the biggest service we can do this time of the year is tending to our internal self so that we can choose our outward responses that go out into the world around us.

The winter, a time of inward restoration by nature in Chinese Medicine, is a great time to do this. Do this by giving yourself radical permission to love yourself, make space for yourself and do things (or not), that you *want* to do, rather than “should” do.

  • Watch your internal tapes – when are you using the word “should”? This is a red flag that you’re not in a good relationship with what is in front of you.
  • Prioritize your internal world by intentionally changing your language – ban the word “should”, replace it with “could”, in all circumstances.
  • “How do I fill my cup first”? This winter, I urge you to ask yourself the question. If you don’t know, that’s okay! Start by giving yourself permission to find out. Start by moving towards what feels good.

Filling your cup will decrease your stress response significantly. Once your cup is full, you can move forward into this season with abundance from within, and live life from a center of joy.

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