With the holidays coming up, I can’t help but think about all the things that need to get done. All the year-end work projects that could potentially spring up at 5pm Thanksgiving-eve and sideline some much needed time off with friends and family. All the shopping and cooking and cleaning that needs to be completed. And what about those last-minute home improvement projects we can knock out before company comes over…? In the midst of all these swirling thoughts, I find my brain gently nudging me to pour a glass of wine to help me wind down a bit.

Lately, I have been finding myself barking back and asking “Why?”

Why do we often reach for a glass of wine or another piece of cake when we are feeling stressed or had a bad day? Why is it so ingrained in our culture that having a glass of wine at the end of the day is how to best find relief from the day’s stress? 

On the one hand, there are certainly some cultural pressures that have conditioned us to believe that this behavior is acceptable, even normal. But have you ever asked yourself why you pour a glass of wine at the end of a stressful day? I did. Here’s what I discovered.

Years ago, when I was again working in a not-so healthy environment, I found myself in the habit of pouring a glass of wine every night after work. Why? I asked myself.  Because it’s been a really long day and I’m tired. Because today was really stressful. Because I deserve it. I worked really hard today. But why? I kept asking because none of these answers really resonated with me.

The more I thought about it and dug into it, I realized that I was coming home at the end of the day utterly spent. Completely exhausted. Feeling a bit depressed. My job was hectic and stressful and at the end of every day I just felt completely out of gas. When I would get home, a new overwhelm would bring up all the things I needed to do at home but didn’t seem to have the energy for. It created a heavy, depressive feeling…like the stressors in my life were never ending.

Like I would simply ride this frantic treadmill until I died of old age or imploded.

So, I would pour a glass of wine. I would pour a glass of wine and sit down and relax and let the booze wash away all those stressors. The dopamine in my brain would skyrocket and I would find some peace and happiness. Finally.

We all do this. Whether it’s with food or alcohol, sex, drugs, shopping, Starbuck’s coffee, WHATEVER. Rather than sitting with our discomfort or accepting the fact that life is 50/50, that sometimes it just sucks, we look to artificial sources to boost those “feel good” hormones.

For me, it was a glass of wine. That glass of wine provided me with an artificial happiness that would vanish the next day. That glass of wine kept me from sitting with my discomfort, accepting the struggle and learning how to take care of myself in a way that didn’t create a deficit the next day. While I wasn’t drinking entire bottles of wine at night, that one glass created a deficit. It delayed the inevitable meltdown that would happen when I couldn’t keep it all together. It’s the equivalent to kicking the emotional can down the road…eventually that can hits an emotional landmine.

Avoiding and buffering negative emotions or discomfort only heightens those feelings. They will come screaming back.

You are avoiding your life and seeking “fake” feelings created by external sources. That is no way to live.

The holidays seem to make this phenomenon even worse. As if our lives aren’t stressful enough, we pile on awkward family dynamics and travel obligations as well. So many of my clients eat because they are uncomfortable around their family. Their families bring up all sorts of old resentments, grudges, and unspoken words and their brains swirl with all sorts of nasty thoughts and cruel self-talk. Eventually, most of us end up face diving into the carrot cake because we want that rush of endorphins, that temporary high to alleviate all our feelings of discomfort.

What would it be like to just sit with those feelings?

What would it be like to just monitor those feelings your body? To become aware of those thoughts that make you so uncomfortable so that maybe you can start to work on those thoughts? After all, feelings are just a vibration in your body. What’s so scary about that?

If we can’t learn to allow and process emotions, we will never learn to stop indulging in those urges and using external things (food, alcohol, etc.) to make us feel better.

This holiday season, I am challenging all my clients to sit with the negative thoughts and emotions that bubble up for them. Observe them. Recognize that life is not supposed to be sunshine and rainbows all the time. Maybe today was a bad day and you are feeling sad. Why is that so terrible? Sadness provides a basis to later experience happiness.

Instead of running from those feelings, I challenge you to do a brain download every time you start feeling negatively. Figure out what thoughts are causing you to feel that way. Are those thoughts factual? Why are you choosing those thoughts? Is that negative feeling really that terrible?

Trust me, if you can learn to experience and sit with negative emotions and stop being afraid of them—fear, anger, jealously, sadness—nothing will ever be scary ever again. Think of what you could accomplish and who you could be.

Coach with me and I will show you how.

Get. Uncomfortable.

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