Will Criticism or Care Come into Our Holiday?

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It’s holiday season again. Stress seems to be higher than normal, while care for people we love can sink to an all-time low. Even our children and grandchildren find themselves trapped in anxiety’s ankle chains over holiday gatherings, where tensions tend to dominate. As we hear words that diminish, we can choose word to care, and care changes the chemistry in our brains and in others.

“My shoes are getting tired of me,” one toddler told his exhausted dad as they hurried from his day care to their car. Then in the neighborhood mall I overheard a little girl try to tell her mom about physical discomfort, after she was told they’d grab a few groceries for dinner. “My organs are bumping up against my bones,” the little girl protested. Her mother snapped back a retort I couldn’t hear but the little girl’s body language showed more trauma than tenderness.

Do you worry that criticism could nudge out care at your holiday gathering? In the same way judgment can work against justice if it slithers between ourselves and those we love, cortisol toxins can fuel our brains to blame others or hide from loved ones. Our daily lives have a great deal to teach us about the secrets of avoiding criticism in order to capitalize more on care.

Not surprisingly, the state of our brains determines the depths of our ability to genuinely care for ourselves and extend goodwill to others.

I write this not as an expert. I’ve been studying human brains for a lifetime, and am constantly learning smarter ways to shrug off criticism, and focus more on thankfulness for care. I am very concerned though with our growing escalation of stress along with its dangerous consequences on so many lives that lack basic care.

Stress can slither into our interactions like a silent killer strikes without warning. One may throw a hand up, so that body language mimes a message of misery. Isolation is its breeding ground, and opioids sometimes offer fake promises and pretend to help.  Under pressure, our opinions and beliefs become grounded in a self-image that hungers to be heard and understood. Yet we become unable to engage in the constructive communication that considers others in ways we crave to be cared for ourselves.

Before we can move past stress so that criticism yields to care given and received, we often need to survey our mental landscape. Is the chemical and electrical circuitry working for or against a healthy holiday? Luckily, fun at our festivity depends less on others growth and more on our choices.

At times, I step back away from the flurry of demands that compete for my attention, just to reflect on the current state of my own humanity. It takes a look inward to adjust our brains the way caring people do when they avoid judgment and ramp up kindness to those around them. Not that it’s easy, and rarely does a heaping dose of serotonin support come by accident. It’s more about creating the growth mindset that builds a bridge and leads pathways beyond criticism to healthier choices.

Challenges to compassion, dosed in cortisol toxins may seem justified whenever we feel slighted, or blamed, or judged to be lesser-than by a person we love. Such a mental state can even blind us and can generate communication problems we unintentionally create. Noise of inner anger, anxiety, or resentment may literally block our ability to care. Nevertheless, serotonin’s caring chemical continues to foster kindness, encouragement, and generosity to ourselves and those around us, when we tap into its pool in our DNA.

Here are five ways we can activate the brain’s plasticity, or its ability to reshape itself into care and kindness fit for finer holiday festivities:

  1. Don’t wait. Others may fail to initiate further evidence of their earned appreciation from us. Better to tell a loved person we value them just because we really do. Name a specific trait we esteem in a person we love, and that person receives a golden gift of our loving care. A kind word here may become the first authentic appreciation that person ever heard from you or me.

  1. Risk love. Assure a person of our care. At first it may seem easier to hint about annoying habits we hope another person will change. Yet our brains can learn the shift to speaking kinder words that assure our love exists in unconditional doses. Rarely is love unspoken and still heard by another person as if it flourished in extravagant care.

  1. Forgive fast. Yes, even that slight that stings our soul when we least expect criticism. Forgive the meta-message that sneaks up when we feel least emotionally fit to handle a subtle hint that good-enough resides beyond our reach. Choose being kind over being correct and we often find ourselves forgiving when bombarded with mistakes we, or others make. Blunders that block caring communications, inevitably open us to stress.

  1. Choose mindfulness. See possibilities in the moment, rather than focus on past problems that perhaps define  mistakes made in similar situations. Let’s say we’ve failed to live up to what a person expects of us. Has it happened to you? Let failed attempts go, in favor of new possibilities that carry our care forward with benefits for all.

  1. Run from regrets. Shake off expectations. Remorse tends to snare our attempts to move forward with the care and love we feel but may fail to convey at times. Anticipations tend to disappoint, and let us down. Why wait for others to understand or appreciate us. Instead, why not build new neuron pathways into care’s castle, by practicing a kind word or action that touches another person, as if the past had been perfect between us.

Step away from criticism and move toward care with any tips above, and serotonin, the brain’s well-being molecule, will strengthen our relationships and fuel festive holidays that leave us high, even if somebody at our celebration slips and goes low.

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Created by Ellen Weber, Brain Based Tasks for Growth Mindset