The Winter Holidays are a time of festivities, food, friends, and family.
They are also a time when we allow ourselves to be excessive with the quick rationalization of “It’s the holidays!” Or, “It’s only once a year!” Or, “I’ll worry about it later!”
The problem with that logic is that this excessive, impulsive behavior often has implications that last long after we have rung in the New Year.
What is an impulsive decision? Simply put, it is a fast decision that is not necessarily a good decision. Why do we make them? Well, we could do a quick review of medical and psychological journals, but the simple answer is this: It feels good–for that moment. We like putting those new shoes in our shopping basket, eating that third piece of pie or expressing our drunken opinions to everyone in the room. We may even get a little satisfaction when we yell at our spouse, throw our cell phone against the wall or slam our car door. It releases some energy and we feel good, for a brief period.
We tend to exhibit more impulsive behaviors during the holidays possibly because of three factors:
Opportunity/Temptation: There are an abundance of social events: office parties, family gatherings, and New Year’s Eve parties. Of course, we need new clothes, we need to take gifts, and we need to provide food. Every store is having a “sale!” We get a pre-approval for a credit card in the mail in November! (What timing, right?) Without factoring the true financial costs, we travel to visit relatives or they travel to visit us. Every moment during the holidays seems to offer an opportunity for some self-indulgent behavior.
Social Acceptance: What other time of year do you see thousands of people at the store at 4 a.m. with two carts filled with luxury items such as jewelry and TVs? Is there anyone in line with just some batteries and coffee filters? What other time of year are people eating turkey, ham, roast beef, potatoes, rolls, dressing, four kinds of pie and eight kinds of cookies all in one sitting? We may feel the need to over-eat, over-shop, or over-indulge simply because it has become the norm! Who wants to be the only one caught refraining from the joys of the season? This social acceptance can even morph into a kind of peer pressure. Who can eat the most? Who can shop the most? Who spends the most or decorates the most? (I could have called this article “‘Tis the season to be Competitive”)
Alcohol: Look back at the list of factors listed previously and add alcohol to any of them. It makes every situation riskier. You are at the office party and drinking heavily. You might decide that tonight is the night to finally hit on that cute coworker from your office–even though they are married and have issues. Or, you are with your annoying cousin for Christmas Eve. If you knock back a few shots, you may decide to let him know how you really feel about him. You have a few drinks while you shop online. Then you have a few more. The next day UPS delivers 10 boxes to your house and you cannot remember why you ordered a vintage Barbie Doll for $250.
We could go into a great deal of research on alcohol’s effects on the brain but I am going to make this simple: There is a part of our brain called the Pre-Frontal Cortex (located right above our eyes). This is the brain’s “Executive Function” center. It is the part of our brain we use to make sound decisions, use good judgment, and it is the part of our brain that helps us “think before we act.” Alcohol impairs this part of our brain. Consequently, the part of our brain that would normally tell us to consider our actions first is no longer fully functioning, making us prone to impulsive actions.
As we begin the New Year and realize the implications of our impulsive decisions, we may ask ourselves, “Why???!!” “Why did I buy this, eat that, or drink that much?” Or, “Why, oh why, did I say what I did to my brother/mother- in- law/spouse?”
This is not meant to be a “buzz-kill.” The holidays can be fun because we tend to relax our normal standards for a short time, and that is important. We need to reward ourselves and show our loved ones how special they are to us. The trick is to enjoy ourselves in a way that does not mean experiencing regret, remorse or financial ruin in the aftermath.
Mostly, we do not want to experience a life defining moment as a result of one impulsive and/or alcohol-fueled act . You know the story: I had an affair. I maxed out five credit cards. I told off my boss. I hit my child. I drove drunk and killed someone.
Holidays should be about the good things in life. Enjoying and appreciating the people that are important to us. If we find ourselves faced with the harsher realities of the holidays, we should take time out to think about what we should do as opposed to what we could do. Yeah, we could spend another $50 on another computer game for our child. Or maybe we should just spend some extra time with them. We could have another beer. Or maybe we should have a soda instead. We could eat another piece of cake, but it might be better to go for a walk with our dad. Relax. It’s not a contest. It’s the holidays. Make good decisions. Enjoy the day sensibly so you will still be able to enjoy the New Year without regret.
Editorís note: Morrow is a Registered Nurse and Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has served the military in many capacities including Outreach Management, Family Advocacy, and as a Care Provider Support coordinator at Madigan Army Medical Center, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. Currently, she serves as the Family Advocacy Treatment manager at the 412th Medical Group where she provides social services to couples and families.