Newsletter 638 – Avoiding Holiday Death Spirals

Are you in the midst of a holiday death spiral? This is a new concept for me, coming from a post last week by author Donald Miller. Perhaps Miller coined this term (and named it HDS). He defines this as a “deadly infestation of lies that hits us in the holidays where we start thinking calories don’t count and budgets don’t matter. The spiral usually has us thinking we can do anything we want during the holidays because we will correct it in the new year.” In January we castigate ourselves for this unwise thinking and face often-painful steps to undo the damage.

Spirals arise when some behavior or way of thinking gets bigger and bigger until it is out of control aspiral 1nd potentially destructive. A little lie is covered with deceptions that keep getting larger until everything becomes public with devastating consequences. Addicts of all kinds start small and then keep adding more (more alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling) until stopping becomes extremely difficult. A little deviation from a diet or from a plan of action enlarges into deviations that are bigger until everything spins faster and leads to collapse. All of this is aided with mental rationalizations or excuses intended to justify our actions. Other people often encourage our spirals or become enablers who protect us from the consequences of our own out-of-control thinking. Even conspiracy theories or fantasies get bigger and bigger, fed by half-truths and selective perceptions. Of course these different examples don’t always lead to death but the consequences can be damaging nevertheless.

The first step in avoiding spirals is to recognize their power and to resist the temptations that lead to their growth. Goal-setting and determination to change can help protect or get us back on track. But the more we are into the spiral, the less we can stop ourselves. In part this is because our brains change as we spiral so stopping is tougher. A crucial help in avoiding or stopping spirals is the presence of other people like accountability partners who are available and who respect us enough to be tough when we waver. Prayer is a huge part of this, especially when we are supported by others.

So go back to HDS. What are you or your clients doing to experience a holiday season that will not be regretted later? What have I missed in this post? Please comment.

Newsletter #464 – Anxiety for Christmas

Many years ago I wrote book titled Coping With Christmas. We illustrated the book with a few amateur photographs that were taken around our neighborhood and we filled the 63 pages with stories and short essays with cutesy titles all starting with the letter M. The Madness, Misery, Miracles, Mystery, Merriment and Memories of Christmas were among the chapters, each with a focus on a different Christmas pressure.  The chapters gave self-help guidelines for coping and all were intended to bring a spiritual message that ultimately pointed readers to Jesus.

I thought of this when I read the Time magazine cover story on “Why Anxiety is Good for You” (December 5, 2011). In many ways the article was a rehash of basic psychology with a little neurophysiology thrown in. The writer mentioned anxiety from double-dip recessions, wars, terrorist threats, weather patterns and post traumatic stress but gave only passing reference to “holiday gridlock.” The article’s focus was on the benefits of anxiety. That’s an interesting contrast with our present year-end time of Christmas preparation pressures, angst, fear, breathless hyperactivity, and unrealistic expectations (much self-imposed) all encircling a day initially designed to commemorate the coming of the Prince of Peace.

There are two faces of anxiety, the Time article states. One can motivate us, the other paralyzes. Each serves a useful purpose. The first, “challenge stress,” stimulates us to plan ahead, invigorates us, and helps us feel that we have the resources to succeed. When it’s not too strong this anxiety keeps us alert and protects us from danger. The other anxiety “threat stress” can immobilize us with fear and insecurity. This causes us to fall apart when pressures build – including the pressures of Christmas.

In a time of great anxiety, Jesus promised peace to his worried disciples (John 14:27). Paul reminded us that God’s peace is available to those who pray and are thankful (Phil. 4:6-7). Please pause and consider your reasons for peace and thanksgiving as you watch a short Christmas video from some villagers in the small Yupiq Eskimo Village of Quinhagak, Alaska. Have a peaceful Christmas, everyone. And please  leave a comment.