The downward spiral that does the most damage to men (and women) at midlife shows itself as a tailspin deeper and deeper into aggravation. It begins with the everyday frustrations of life. These seeds of midlife crisis begin to germinate under the combination of physical (hormonal) changes that heighten your sensitivity to irritations and a pattern of self-recrimination from your increasingly desperate attempts to dismiss, manage, or express your growing anger. None but the most aware among us can escape from the built-in escape mechanisms that click automatically into play: particularly the mechanisms of denial (there’s nothing wrong with me) and blame (it’s all your fault). For many people at midlife, life consists of a balancing act on a high wire while being wrapped in a blanket of high explosives. Almost anything can not only knock you off your equilibrium, but, once you’ve gone over the edge, there are very apt to be explosive results with a lot of fall-out.

Now, add to this precarious mix th download (18)e incredible (and often unnecessary) stresses of the holidays. Everyone feels the pressure to make the holidays (whichever ones you’re celebrating) that ‘perfect’ time of year that will be forever memorable for everyone involved. Hopes and expectations both rise to incredible heights of unreason, emotions run wild, bank accounts and schedules tend to be stretched to the breaking point. ‘It’s the season for giving,’ you hear all around you, so why should you be concerned with taking care of yourself? You don’t want to be thought of as a Scrooge, do you? So, you push yourself to your limits . . . and beyond. When the inevitable occurs and you suffer a virtual emotional collapse under the weight of all these assumptions and expectations, it’s hardly surprising when your imaginings of the perfect holiday season erupt in a meltdown of cataclysmic proportions: threatening peace in your family, your conduct of your career, and/or your own health and well-being. Happy Holidays, indeed!

Sadly, midlife and the holidays don’t mix well . . . at all. Think of a man’s emotional processing system as a funnel. According to Dr. Jed Diamond (who has done incredibly extensive research on the matter), most men filter their emotional experiences into one of two ‘channels’ for emotional expression: anger (for negative emotions) and sex (for positive emotions). It doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to conjure up the reaction of a man’s outside world to both of those emotional expressions: they’re very apt to receive confusion, confrontation, or even rejection from many people in their social environment. If these aren’t the responses that they’re looking for, their disappointment will ultimately get channeled back into their filtration system and come out again as further, even deeper anger. Especially now, as we approach the season of ‘Peace on Earth toward men of good will,’ the pressures to contain or stifle these angry emotional outbursts can become intense. This represents a vicious trap from which many men just will not be able to escape over the next few weeks.

While we’re exploring the “Bah! Humbug!” factor, we mustn’t neglect the additional pressures that are on all of us during this particular holiday season. Career and economic insecurity has risen to a level unlike anything we’ve seen in this country since before the Second World War. Companies are laying off, and demanding that the remaining staff do increasingly more with increasingly fewer resources. The penalty for nonconformance comes swiftly and surely: unemployment. In addition, the pressure’s on for all the holiday ‘extras’ like the decorations, the presents, the cards, the parties, the food and, of course, the travel. The more you try to avoid disappointing everyone, the more stress you’ll put on yourself. The more stress you’re under, the higher your level of irritability and the higher the probability that your anger will boil over this season: and most likely the target will be someone you deeply care about.

How can you manage your way through the holiday minefield? Start with two simple approaches: 1) raise your awareness of your own inner feelings; don’t deny how you feel or look for someone to blame for it. And 2) use these two effective methods of diffusing the pressures you’re feeling. You might try a) using prayer or meditation to keep yourself centered, and b) sharing your feelings with at least one friend whom you trust. It’s essential, no matter what approach that you choose to take, that you avoid both denial and isolation. These two (standard male) approaches to stress – especially at midlife – can deliver a whole lot worse than a lump of images (5)coal in your stocking on Christmas morning. This may be the season for giving and caring about those less fortunate than you, but none of this will happen unless you first have developed the skills and habits necessary to take really good care of yourself. The ancient philosophers once said, “Nemo dat quod non habet” (nobody can give what he hasn’t got), so make doubly sure that the peace and joy that you want for others this holiday season fills your own heart first. Otherwise, you may be visited by three ghosts . . .

H. Les Brown, MA, CFCC
ProActivation® Coaching

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Copyright © 2008 H. Les Brown

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