As men, we can find the Christmas/New Year season confusing and stressful, as well as enjoyable. Relationship and work issues can intrude on the season of peace, relaxation and joy. As Christmas Day approaches, our partner, family members, or friends, may demand our input to preparations. They may gradually become more and more frayed around the edges, until they start to snap. A simple logical (at least to the male mind) question such as “If it’s such a hassle inviting all these friends/relatives/’in-laws to dinner, why did you invite them?” can send our partner over the edge. Sometimes it seems simplest to retreat to the barbecue, where we can poke a sausage around, craft beer in hand, in comfortable silence with other men.
If we’re lucky enough to have secure work post Covid-19, the headspace that holidays allow mean we can start to make the comparison between life at work and life outside of work. We ask ourselves “Am I enjoying my job?”. Often, the answer is not that favourable. We can distract ourselves by buying a stand-up paddleboard or some other toy, and then the working year starts again – but we are still left with the nagging sense of “Is this all there is?”.
Not every man experiences the silly season like this, but if you do, it may be a sign you have work to do, just like dealing to an overgrown lawn. What are you avoiding?
As a father, friend and husband, I’m familiar with these questions. As a registered psychologist, I use a clinically proven toolkit called ACT to help other men take meaningful action. For example, ACT tells us that our minds can prank us. If we don’t recognise this we can end up in trouble. Christmas is an example - billions of dollars of marketing and movies are directed at us telling us that Christmas is a great time of year and we should be having fun and enjoying those around us. When we find that parts of it are actually quite stressful, annoying or empty we feel bad. We feel bad that we’re not feeling good. Then we try to avoid the bad feelings by withdrawing from our partner to the barbecue, having more beers than we intended or buying something that we don’t need and can’t really afford. In this way, avoiding feelings, just like avoiding that overgrown lawn, often makes things worse.
My father asked me, in his closing days, what I stood for. I know what he stood for above all – providing for his family, to give us security. It meant that he could look back on his life with a degree of fulfillment. It is a sense of purpose that allows us to decide on what actions to take, and what to avoid, to live up to our rich potential as men. We can move forward by:
a) Recognising unhelpful thoughts (“I should be enjoying this – what’s wrong with me?”);
b) Accepting what is (“I’m not enjoying this”); and
c) Clarifying what matters.
If you’re avoiding difficult feelings, having unhelpful thoughts or you want to clarify your work or purpose, a skilled guide like a counsellor, psychologist or coach can help.
Shaun Bowler is an Ignite support provider and registered psychologist specialising in workplace wellness.
He is skilled in mindfulness training, stress and coping, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), career development, facilitation, workplace learning, organisational development and psychometrics.
If now is the time to talk about your life or career with an expert like Shaun, explore Ignite's individual support subscription options or ask your employer to consider employer subscriptions for your workplace.
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