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Webinar - Why Not Make Believe: Reducing Holiday Stress

Dec 22, 2022

Dr. Joe Currier:
Andrew Mason, and I want to thank you for joining us. We enjoy taking time to think out loud with friends. Once upon a time, those words once upon a time are not the opening of a holiday story or are they? I'll let you decide.

Andrew J. Mason:
Dr. Joe, any story that starts with Once upon a time brings up images of Hollywood and magic and sounds a little bit like make believe to me. Is that your experience?

Dr. Joe Currier:
Well, that depends. Andrew, when you say make believe, do you mean imagining a fantasy like a child anxiously waiting for the arrival of Santa Claus? They have nothing to do but wait. Or do you mean make believe? The ability to assert your personal power to make something good, come out of something painful, threatening, or disappointing. The nearly 60 years of academic, clinical and consulting work I've done have taught me that mindset is a critical force. It's a force that determines the outcome. Events in the inner game of life 101 individuals are either moving forward or moving backward. There is no standing still. Even when you remain silent or cast yourself in the role of a victim, you are still choosing. But in these instances, you give the power to outside forces. To a very large degree, outcome is a matter of choice. Every commitment an individual makes, big and small produces self-defeating drag, or creates rewarding momentum in the form of confidence and determination.
Over the years, listening to and learning from the many individuals I've had the privilege to partner with, from the therapeutic couch and athletic arena to the executive boardroom, I gradually introduced a bodymind reset formula. Bodymind, one word. It's important to unite these personal forces. Otherwise, the mind can play tricks on the body and vice versa. Nature has set us up for failure in today's life, career, adventures. What worked in more primitive times when we lived in caves and had to fight or flee when a tiger came for lunch, now can show up in the everyday never-ending cycles of frustrations, like the commuter stuck in the snarl of bumper to bumper traffic. Just roll down the car window and you may hear drivers shout, "This traffic is killing me," and it can. Our bodymind reset is simple, effective and necessary in the face of distress.
Three steps can help you on your way. First, stop. Imagine a big red stop sign to halt any negative self-talk and disturbing self-defeating mental images. Our mind is active 24/7, even while sleeping, dreams express the ups and downs we face. Your wet pajama top is not the result of a cloud burst. It's the sign that you're not heading the advice, don't sweat the small stuff. The data is clear. 75% of the population, 75% of the time operates with negative self-talk. It's not just the event that causes problems, it's the wear and tear on the bodymind, including you're getting stuck in the past and held prisoner by the what ifs of the future. Remember this, in the absence of information, we make up stories in our mind. So step one, stop. Step two, what I call the mind matrix. It takes more time to clearly describe and manage this process, but for this conversation, let me suggest that our mind operates in one of three windows, the warrior, the philosopher, or the frog.
Guess which one you should keep your eyes on. The warrior stands their ground with a Tai chi spirit. Warriors operate with the intention of care-frontation, not confrontation. They are warriors, not avengers, who react with rage and violence. The philosopher pursues deeper meaning and purpose looking for solutions versus pointing the finger of shame and blame. One of the great contributors in the stress management arena, Dr. Bernie Siegel, gives us two simple yet powerful words as a practical reminder, when things get tough, "Oh well." To me, these words are a sigh of relief as I draw my mind's eyes to opportunity in the face of trauma. It's the frog to watch out for. When you choose to jump here, there, and everywhere to survive in the face of chaos. Oh, you may survive, but you will never prosper. One major reason is that PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, significantly interferes with our breathing, which in turn shuts down effective thinking.
Our brain faces an oxygen debt. So in step three, we practice healing, breathing, done properly, the bodymind reset can change PTSD into PTM, post-traumatic momentum. Andrew will lead you in a bodymind reset exercise at the end of this conversation, for those who you want to hang out with us. I've seen individuals against all odds facing war, cancer, the pain of divorce, and even the loss of a loved one. I've seen them not survive in the face of distress. I've seen them prosper. My dear friend, partner for 50 years and my true hero, Dr. Les Frankfurt, a survivor of the Holocaust. Dr. Les suffered as a child in the horrors of Auschwitz. As an identical twin, he faced unmentionable distress. Dr. Les and I were leading a team building session with a man who had been carrying the burden of shame for most of his life.
It's a long, painful story, but it ended in a great relief and celebration. When we finished the deep caring conversations between him and his partners, Dr. Les went to a board on the left side of the room and wrote, "The main thing is to know what the main thing is." I'll be honest, at first I didn't get it. I was expecting him to share a deep lesson in life. He was beautiful at these memorable, passionate stories. But after writing the first part of his message, he simply walked to a second board on the other side of the room and wrote, "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing." Have a question. Do you? Do you know your main thing? What motivates and drives you day after day with the sacrifices you make? Why do you do what you do? For many business leaders, their goal is to build wealth and size.
I've heard Tom Cruise in the voice of Jerry McGuire yelling, "Show me the money." I propose that wealth building and growth, while they're important are the outcome, not the goal of power leaders. Let me repeat that. I believe it's the outcome, not the goal. To me, the goal, the main thing, it's to build passionate partnerships based on three Rs. Relationships, relationships, relationships. One other question. Do you keep the main thing, the main thing? For example, do you feel overwhelmed and defeated in the face of trauma? Worldwide, we have been facing a tsunami of negativity. COVID-19, social isolation, racial and political upheaval, climate explosions. The rate of suicide is off the charts. In the face of deep conflict, do you keep the main thing the main thing? Dr. Les once told me that during his darkest days as a young child in Auschwitz, as the sun rose, he would stand by a boarded up window and he would look out between the cracks in the filthy dank barracks wall.
Imagine him as a child, alone, facing who knows what next, he would look for a ray of sunshine, whatever light he could get at the dawning of a new day, his day. In that moment, Dr. Les would say, and he'd raise his arms, "I stand tall, whole, well and free." The only time any of us ever truly own is now this moment. When I faced the third bout of cancer a year or so ago, I had already had my small intestines out a number of years ago from cancer, and then my prostate. They took that out and unfortunately eventually it caught up with me again and they took out my bladder and gave me a bag. I kept struggling to recover, but I could not find my way out of the darkness I felt. The doctor, great man, said that he couldn't do anything else for me, and he said, "Joe, your body won't wake up."
And I thought of Dr. Les and I made a choice. I asked my wife to get me out of the hospital to take me home. Each morning she would help me to a window in my home and I would greet the sun. I would say, "I stand tall. I stand whole. I stand well, and I stand free." Hey, if my dear friend could prosper, a child alone looking out a crack in a dank wall, I imagined what I could experience from my window to the world. So please open the window to your world, through your mind's eyes and make believe. I'm nearly 80 years old and yet I still feel the child inside of me. In that spirit, I often go deep inside and look out at my world of possibilities. How about you? It's never too late to have a happy childhood. Thank you. Blessings on your way.

Andrew J. Mason:
Thank you so much, Dr. Joe and I want to respect everybody's time, but at the same time, I want to make sure that we give ourselves the gift of time to ourself. And what I'd love for you to do... What I found is really, really helpful, and Dr. Joe's helped me with this, is just imagining if you could, you don't have to close your eyes, you can keep them open if you want, but just imagining a big red stop sign. So all that flood of negativity that Dr. Joe is talking about, that tsunami of stress and things happening and maybe negative memories, just so much happening. Just imagining a big red stop sign. And it's crazy how that stop sign has that really unique shape too. It's not a circle, it's octagonal and just thinking of the red color with the beige letters.
And it's funny how when we have stress, we tend to breathe in two parts and breathe from our chest. Inhale. Exhale. What I'm going to ask us to do is, is to break that down into four steps with a pause in between each step. So for three counts, inhale and pause and exhale. Just doing that just gives you the opportunity to have oxygenated blood and exchange for carbon dioxide. And if you didn't play a long last breath, do it one more time with me. Inhale and exhale. Now, I'd love to give you the gift to everybody listening of talking through some stuff with you. I'm not a huge meditation guy, so I'm not really going to guide you into the field of your heart or anything like that. I love the power of a really well-placed question though. So if you'll hang with us for just a few seconds, I just want to empathize for a second with what you might be going through.
I can close my eyes and just picture somebody like you on the other side of the screen, just sitting there with that one thing or those stacks of things that are just compounding and looming over your holiday season like a dark cloud. And it's got to be so hard. I know the holidays can be stressful enough for anybody. I love what Tony Robbins says. He says, "First before you can make any change, you really need to see it like it is." And we're not going to ignore that. We feel stress around the holidays, that happens. Acting like it isn't there is enough. It's like a prescription to drive yourself crazy. It's all right to raise your hand and say, yeah, that's me. I feel that. And it might be as simple as your mental chatter like, I really need to get back to work. Why am I spending time listening to these guys talking? Or maybe it's more complex than that. More nuanced than that. You're picturing an empty chair at the holiday meal or what that represents.
It's okay to recognize that it's there, acknowledge that that's there. Sometimes there's this low level numbness or dullness from those feelings because we haven't acknowledged it or even given it a sort of label. But once you do that, it's time to see it better than it is. And you say, better, Andrew, what do you actually mean? It's not going to get better. That's why I'm stuck. What do you mean better? Relax. I'm not talking about actually fixing anything or resolving the problem. I guess what I mean is, very often we don't give ourselves permission to imagine a world without the problem that's stressing us out because we don't want to be disappointed if the problem doesn't go away. It's kind of like that good dream where you wake up from it and you're disappointed because it wasn't actually real. We're crafty. We trick ourselves sometimes. But here's the key. Just because you can't see how that problem or the stress goes away, it doesn't mean you can't enjoy the feeling of what it's like once it does. And you say, well, Andrew, my in-laws are the problem.
Are you telling me to imagine them gone? No, no, no, no, no, no. I just want you to take a second and ask what would it look like if that relationship wasn't strained. What does it look like for me to actually, Heaven forbid, I enjoy a slice of the holiday season this year. My gosh, what does it look like or feel like or sound like if that problem actually wasn't there? Could you dare go as far as hearing the sound of somebody congratulate you for getting out of dead or picturing you taking the first steps of reaching back out to those people that you had that falling out with? Or even enjoying moments of the holidays again without that thing or person that you thought was essential to your happiness. And maybe your brain says, that's impossible, or I could never picture that. That's okay.
But if you could, what would it feel like to finally have a stress-free holiday one where you're actually present with the people that you care about. Yeah, you're in the room, but is your mind there? And maybe it's too much of a jump to believe that it's actually possible. That's okay. But I'm curious, what do the holidays look like when that source of stress is actually gone or resolved or made better? Maybe get a sense of what that would feel like. Maybe you say, well, Andrew, I'd be grateful. So freeing to know that they aren't angry at me anymore, or I didn't feel judged, or we didn't know any more payments or I feel free like this huge weight is off my shoulders. That's great. Allow yourself to feel that for just a second. My gosh, we punish ourselves sometimes because we believe that we deserve whatever mess we've gotten ourselves into.
Maybe that's true, but you're allowed to be kind to yourself too. That's what this space is all about. Yeah, we focus so much on everybody else, not because we're super humble, but because we forget we have an us to take care of too. You're there too. You deserve all the happiness in the world. You do. You need to know that. But creating some sort of a mental hurdle that says, well, I can't be happy unless, or I don't deserve happiness unless certain boxes are checked, that's going to make you crazy. It's not worth sacrificing your happiness or joy over making sure every single thing is perfect. Congratulations, you're human. Have you noticed we're all imperfect, okay? So cut yourself a little bit of a slack here. What we're talking about is what would it feel like if the problem went away and if you played with us, maybe you've experienced some feelings that you haven't caught in a long time.
So I guess my question is why wait? Why wait for it to actually be solved? Why wait to enjoy this season? Why wait to be thankful for what you do have even if everything isn't perfect for you? You know what? Are you breathing? Are you alive? Are you experiencing this call through technology that allows anyone to communicate anywhere across the world? Do you have food, clothes? Maybe you can't answer yes to every single one of those questions, but we can all say yes to some of them. We all have something to be thankful for. That's what this is about. So give yourself the gift of spending just a few seconds and saying, okay, what am I thankful for? If your brain goes nothing, well, what could you be thankful for if you really had to be? If my life depended on me being thankful, what could I be grateful for today?
I know this doesn't necessarily answer all of the questions, but I hope this pause really helps recenter you in a way that realigns some of the priorities that you do have. Sometimes they just get lost and crowded out to louder voices. Maybe just take a few minutes and do whatever you need to do. Is there somebody you should call? So, next step you need to take, maybe it's just sitting there and being grateful that you're alive, what a gift. Whenever it is, just take a few minutes even after we hang up from this call and acknowledge that too. Hey, we love you all. We hope you have an amazing holiday. Take a few seconds. Think about it. What are you thankful for? What are you grateful for? What could you be grateful for if you really had to be? And we'll talk to you soon.


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