A Powerful Way to Deal With Depersonalization (or Any Anxiety Condition)

Anxiety. Sometimes it just sneaks up on you.

You can be doing all the right things – eating well, exercising, meditating. But still, feelings of anxiety can just appear out of nowhere. Suddenly you have to deal with racing thoughts, heart palpitations, maybe even a full-blown panic attack.

The symptoms and conditions that anxiety produces vary greatly from person to person. For me it was depersonalization, a sense of being cut off from reality, like you’re dreaming all the time. It was horrible and the symptoms were particularly frightening.

And like all anxiety conditions, what was most frightening was the lack of control I seemed to have over it. But here’s a great tip I found incredibly useful:

You may not always be able to control the anxiety.

But you can always control your reaction to it.

And that’s a lot more powerful than you might think!

Take panic attacks, for example. The initial scary thought that sets it off might be something really small. A thought that for most people would last a few seconds and then fade away naturally.

It’s your reaction to it that sets off the spiralling thoughts and eventually, a full-blown panic attack.

But if you can recognize that initial scary thought for what it is (just a thought!), you automatically change your reaction to it. And by not overreacting to it, you can reduce the anxiety and even stop the panic attack completely.

Let’s look at this from another angle. Let’s say you’ve just had a panic attack. What’s the most effective thing to do? Sit around, feeling sorry for yourself, dreading the next panic attack? Of course not. That’ll only worsen your fear and increase the likelihood of another one happening.

Instead, don’t overreact. Distract yourself. Keep your mind occupied. Stay busy. Play an instrument, take a walk, meet up with a friend. That reaction teaches your brain that even though the panic attack has just happened, it hasn’t affected you.

 When your brain registers that these feelings can bring your day to a halt, it confirms that anxiety is ‘big’ and ‘important’. But when you go about your day regardless of any panic attacks, depersonalization or any other form of anxiety? Your brain registers that anxiety is not ‘big’ or ‘important’!

Think of anxiety like a spoiled child. It throws tantrums to get attention. And the more attention you pay to it, the more attention it demands. But if you just let the tantrum happen and go about your day? The child sees that tantrums don’t get him anywhere — and will eventually stop using them!

The same goes for all feelings of anxiety: Don’t overreact to them.

Accept that the feelings are there. Let the ‘tantrum’ happen. It can’t hurt you. And then immediately focus on something constructive and engaging.

This technique is especially useful as you start to recover from any anxiety. You’ll find that you have some good days and some bad days. It’s a natural part of recovery!

 But again — the trick is not to overreact.

When you have a bad day, don’t be disappointed or feel sorry for yourself. Just accept that you feel a little anxious, and stay busy. And it may seem counterintuitive, but when you have a good day, don’t celebrate!

This teaches your brain that anxiety is not important, in either positive or negative terms. That puts the unwanted thoughts and feelings into perspective and allows them to fade away and disappear — which is exactly what they’re supposed to do. 

This simple technique was invaluable in my recovery from depersonalization disorder, but can be used with any anxiety condition. It teaches your brain that feelings of anxiety, no matter how intense they might get, are ultimately not that important.

There’s a great saying in mindfulness: “Engage with useful thoughts, disengage from the others.”

 Anxious thoughts are not useful. So disengage from them by not overreacting to them.


About the Author: Shaun O Connor

Shaun O Connor is the author of The Depersonalization Manual, a book which details his recovery from Depersonalization disorder and provides a complete guide to recovery for sufferers of the condition. First published as an ebook in 2007, it has since expanded to become a complete recovery package and has sold over 9,000 copies worldwide.

Shaun is also a multi award-winning television and film director whose work has screened around the world, including at the Dublin, Helsinki and Boston Film Festivals.

Twitter: @DPManual

32 Comments

Zara

I love the article. Sadly, its not so easy to do when youre so deep in DP and general anxiety. Ive been dealing with it for almost a year now, and theres still a long way to go. When I first felt DP I felt like im losing my mind, I had no idea whats wrong with me. After a while I started to look up for the symptoms and realized what im dealing with. DP makes you disconnected from everything around you, you can hear yourself and feel like a stranger is talking, you can look at something you know but deep down will question yourself why does it feel strange to look at, situations will feel like a dream. Its living but not really living – it disconnects you from all your surrondings. When I looked for the disorder I was happy to find out that im not the only one who deals with it and was looking for people to hear their story and their way of handling the situation. I hope all DP sufferers will find the strength to win the battle, also for myself.

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Dr mirza

Hi I am Dr mirza and I am anesthetist .i feel depersonalised when Iam addressing huge gathering and when I am doing some critical work like intubation .but then I recover spontaneously after seconds of being disconnected and this is happening repeatedly when I do some critical work or when I am being watched by masses .this temporary discomfort is hampering my confidence otherwise I know I am best in my skills and my thinking is very appropriate and intelligent .please help

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sam

Hi, I’m also a 15-year-old and wanted to do more research on depersonalization and anxiety and came across this article. I agree, it really did help me look at this in a different way and I’m glad I was able to find it. Anxiety can be a really scary thing for me and sometimes I don’t know what’s happening to myself so articles like this really help me analyze what going on inside of my head. I hope you know you aren’t alone and staying positive is one of the best things you can do. 🙂

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Sayla

Hi Shaun,
I’m a 15 year old from Australia, and have been battling with anxiety and quite bad derealization and depersonalization for about a year now. My parents are getting me to see people, and i’m trying so hard to keep living my life as usual, to ignore the anxiety. But alas, it can be so hard when one week your mind decides you have a brain tumour, and the next about to have a heart attack. Anxiety is so weird, and so unlogical. It scares me, so much. But i’m working hard to stay positive no matter what, and i’m extremely glad i’ve come across this article as it really helped me look at the way i feel from a new perspective. Thank you so much, keep doing the work your doing on this stuff. Because sometimes just a random article online that a teenager in the midst of a panic attack finds, can really really help. ty <3

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sam

Hi, I’m also a 15-year-old and wanted to do more research on depersonalization and anxiety and came across this article. I agree, it really did help me look at this in a different way and I’m glad I was able to find it. Anxiety can be a really scary thing for me and sometimes I don’t know what’s happening to myself so articles like this really help me analyze what going on inside of my head. I hope you know you aren’t alone and staying positive is one of the best things you can do. 🙂

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Christine

Hello let me thank you frist after reading your article how to over come anxiety I just developed blood pressure 150/90 I was ask to take medicine stamlo 5mg thought it help my bp come lower but my anxiety thinking about my bp it’s difficult to except like normal n thinking many other things feeling low as of now don’t know how to handle ,after reading your article lots more are there who also went through this but come out reading their reviews it’s giving positive enlightenment toward life thank you so much From Christine india

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Maeve H

Shaun,

Thank you so much for writing this and other helpful articles about anxiety. I have always suffered from fear and anxiety disorders as well as OCD. Growing up in a stressful, controlling home situation and becoming a young adult and recently getting my first full time job has made me more stressed than ever. I recently tried weed for the first time because my boyfriend said it might help me calm down, but instead I guess I tried it and didn’t like this new feeling of losing control because my whole life has always been controlled. I had a panic attack and he was there to hold me and comfort me (I don’t remember it at all), and I have been unable to sleep for two days. But I feel as though I am slowly getting back to myself and getting back in touch with reality. It was an extremely stressful experience, but I am learning more and more about myself through it. I was feeling like someone else and feeling physically numb and in a dreamlike state for two days, but reading this and other articles from other people and help sites has made me aware of my own reality and regain control and confidence. Thank you for helping me. It has changed me for the better and forever.

Sincerely,

Maeve

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Soulaimane

Hey Valencia the same with me here and even worst cuz my doctor dont even know what is Derealization! So i learned to cope with it by myself i now go outside and see people but im not really comfortable, i feel like im underwater i started to seen a neurologist he gave me some Benzodiazipin to calm my anxeity and panic attacks and it successfuly did, but i still feel so derealized and cut off from reality! Idk what to do.

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Roland

Hi Shaun,

I had my first panic attack more than a year from now and I have never been the same. I have always thought my entire life that I am a bit more anxious person compare to others. I always think its normal and other people are the same. After my first panic attack my body started paying attention to it and so I have bad days and good days. I cant afford therapy so I have been learning bits of coping mechanism. Thank you for this article. I learned another lesson that it cant hurt us, dont pay attention to it and we have to tell our self that anxiety is not important. And all the feeling associated with it will go away. Another eye opener for me. God bless you!

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Brad R

Shaun….

I recently have had hellish attacks of anxiety/panic….Stress from my job and losing family members has pushed me over the edge. I even ended up in the ER with blood pressure 165/110. I have resorted to Klonopin which seems to have given me Depersonalization along with this as well… I’m also a Hypochondriac and am dealing with TMJ at the moment which has caused me to be dizzy/lightheaded sine September 28, 2019….Needless to say, I’ve dealt with a revolving circle of hell. I have done a lot of research and have found there are natural ways to fight this Anxiety. Seeing that my father ha sever anxiety and fought it his whole life, I to have been stricken with the symptom. However, he had no help. But he did offer me good advice through life… ” son, don’t let any thing have FREE RENT in your mind” Little did I know, he was talking TO ME and seen that I was suffering from the same thing he was. Up until he died, he constantly told me to calm down, don’t worry about things… to prepare me for where I am now….. I am so glad I found this article and you have shed some light that this is not a permanent disease; but rather something I CAN control and not feed….I want to thank you so much….SIDENOTE: I am a kick ass Chef and Drummer, so I am not completely nuts…. Cheers Mate: Brad

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Valencia M

I always feel I’m in a dream state and I see a bit distorted. Happened after a simple surgery. I believe it’s derealization. But my doctors say no. How can I convince my Therepist who I been seeing for anxiety? And this derealization started 20 months ago. I’m afraid to go outside bc of this!! What can I do to help myself to make my providers believe me?!

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Soulaimane

Hey Valencia the same with me here and even worst cuz my doctor dont even know what is Derealization! So i learned to cope with it by myself i now go outside and see people but im not really comfortable, i feel like im underwater i started to seen a neurologist he gave me some Benzodiazipin to calm my anxeity and panic attacks and it successfuly did, but i still feel so derealized and cut off from reality! Idk what to do.

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Jadyn

Hey Shaun, recently I have really struggled with my anxiety and some depression here and there. Recently it has gotten so bad to where it started my relationship with depersonalization and derealization. It’s has taken a big toll on me and I have really been struggling with staying hopeful. I’m somewhat young and feel like I’m not strong enough to fight it being so ripe in age. This is the first thing I have read that has given me hope that I can overcome this. Thank you!

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Hana

Anxiety is not the only factor though. I don’t feel anxious at all but instead, completely emotionally and physically numb. The therapy for anxiety induced dp/dr didn’t work for me. Also, my mind is blank, so quiet I can’t hear any thoughts. No thoughts and no emotions= not human= dp/ dr’d af

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Francis

At age 16, I smoked marijuana for my second time and suffered my first and only panic attack. That panic attack left me with DP/DR disorder. I’ve struggled with DP/DR for seven years now and can’t seem to shake it off. At this point, I’ve accepted that there is no cure.

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Charles C

Hey Francis, I was/am in the exact situation you are, I smoked pot and had a bad experience one night, it sent me into a spiral of “uncontrollable fear and thoughts” I was convinced I was not real or was in a dream state, thankfully I had a dad who I could share this with and he truly comforted me as I ddI genuinely cry out of fear. We decided to sit down and talk and to some mindfulness exercises together every night, slowly but surely I did see change. One day I realised I’d lived a few weeks completely depersonalised free, I hadn’t noticed it leave and didn’t see how i could of possibly felt that way, then it clicked that my mind was just playing tricks on me out of fear for being out of control, as soon as I started doing things in my life that took my attention away and showed these feelings no care, my mind must’ve seen that it was not important for me to feel these things and let go. I song lie, currently I am going through similar stuff and yes it’s scary having it happen almost 2 whole years later. But I am realising small causes like stress in life and me being scared for my future. I believe my brains using it as an attempt to “protect” or “flee” these issues that I need to take on with a smile. I have faith I’ll get through the mud of it once again and believe that if you let others in to help and find a purpose it will leave you feeling better than ever! Good luck and know that I’m cheering for you!
Charlie
PS I know this was posted awhile ago but still wanted to say my piece!

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Phumelelo

Hii My name is Phumi and I live in South Africa and I’m 17 years old. I’ve done some online tests and have been diagnosed with depersonalization disorder. It’s been like this since the month of October 2018 and nothing has changed. In fact things have gotten worse.
I’m writing my prelims soon and I’m really scared that this is gonna affect me in the future.
Please help!!

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Gift

Thought I was the only one suffering from this condition is South Africa???

Did you manage to get help

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Kayla K

Hey, Shaun. I am a 16 year old girl who had been diagnosed with depersonalization disorder just a few years ago when I was 12. And for a few years I never had a single attack. I felt fine. I was relieved because I had suffered with this disorder for so long. However, now that feeling is returning in a most inopportune time because now my mother is not in the position to pay for my treatment. So here I am begging for any means of coping with these feelings as they are becoming more and more common in my everyday life. I am overwhelmed by this feeling and it’s now taking a toll on my day to day life. Please help in any way. Please.

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kartikay d

hi,im now in 10 grade and i am 15 year old this derealisation thing started just a month ago i just wanted to know how to get rid of it and will it affect my studies please reply soon i will be appearing in a very important exam i have to focus on my studies,thank you.kartik

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Matt

I’ve been dealing with the same thing for 4 or 5 days at the moment, and it has been one of the weirdest and unnerving weeks of my life. The best thing to remember is that it is a feeling, and no matter how uncomfortable, feelings ultimately cannot hurt you! Good luck on your exam bud, everything will be ok!

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Momina

Hi I just recently started suffering from anxiety and depression and derealization. Just one question does it ever go away? Coz I’m really freaked out by it I have a small kid and nothing seems real I’m really scared. I hope it just vanishes this feeling is horrible.

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Charles C

Heyo! Same boat, and I know it can be scary, just know it is ultimately your mind being scared of things and there is not real threat, the sooner your mind is at ease the better. Try to focus on all the amazing and beautiful things in life!! In all honesty, smiling, laughing and no joke, crying really helps me to come into a centred mind! Also try mindfulness that stuff really does help!
Good luck
Charles

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Julie

Hi Shaun, I suffer from a form of anxiety that is terrifying, horrifying & controlling. It began when I was 27, just after the birth of my second child. It’s a genetic disorder on mother’s side of the family. My mother suffered with it, 2 of her sisters, cousin, my great auntie (who suicided late 1800’s). Then, worst of all, my youngest son become extremely unwell with it starting May 2016. He tried to cope with it for 9 months, doing all & everything he could to become well. He saw dr’s, 2 psychiatrists, psychologists, did a CBT course, tried many medications – nothing helped him. Sadly & shockingly, he suicided on 27.2.2017. As far as I know, all members of my family who have suffered with this severe form of anxiety have been female. My son was the first male to be affected by it. This type of anxiety does not need anything to “set it in motion”. Everything can be going well, nothing wrong – then IT HITS! Suddenly, without warning. I become extremely unwell with this in approx 10 minutes once the feeling begins. I still suffer from it sporadically. I am extremely well at the moment, but I must stay on medication. I take Nardil (phelelzine sulphate-monoamine oxidase inhibitor) MAO. I have found this to be the only effective medication for me & I have been tried on probably everything on the market. Have you heard of this type of severe anxiety? It’s like having a constant panic attack, but it lasts every second of every day! Thank you, Julie

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Shaun O Connor

Hey Julie, thanks for your comment and I’m very sorry to hear that your family has been so affected by that condition. I must say that I’m not personally familiar with any form of anxiety as a genetic disorder, but I’m not a medical practitioner so my knowledge of anxiety-based conditions outside of Depersonalization would be relatively limited. I’m very glad to hear that you’re doing better at the moment though, and that you’ve found a medication that works for you. Stay in regular touch with your doctor, and keep up the good work!

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kathy key

i have suffered from anxiety all my life now my husband has cancer an i have to deal with rude family members plus all of his care im shutting down so tired all the time so filled with worry,

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Shaun O Connor

Hi Kathy,
Thanks for your comment and I’m very sorry to hear that you’ve been having a tough time lately. People react very differently to difficult situations, so don’t worry if you feel stressed out at the moment.

I would advise that you take some time every day to relax and meditate. I have found this invaluable at times of stress, and I try to set aside an hour in the mornings so that I’m as prepared as possible for the day.

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Diane w

Hi Shaun

My 25 year old son has been suffering from DDD for about five years. We only learned about it a year ago and since then he hasn’t had any luck with a therapist. It has been a nightmare for the last five years. But since we have found out what he’s been suffering from he’s been getting better on his own and figuring it out. He is in a better place but has more work to do. He had been non functioning during this but has gone back to college on line and did get a part
Time job. He feels like he is coming to the end of
This but husband who is a physician still thinks he should see a therapist. Would love to get your opinion on this. I am a desperate mom looking for answers

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Rachael C

Hi Shaun, I have recently purchased your e manual and have found it extremely useful and helpful and for the first time in a few months I am starting to feel better after reading it.
Thank you

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Shaun O Connor

Hey Rachael,
That’s great news, I’m delighted to hear that you’ve been finding the book so useful! 🙂
Shaun

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When things feel hard or the world feels big, children will be looking to their important adults for signs of safety. They will be asking, ‘Do you think I'm safe?' 'Do you think I can do this?' With everything in us, we have to send the message, ‘Yes! Yes love, this is hard and you are safe. You can do hard things.'

Even if we believe they are up to the challenge, it can be difficult to communicate this with absolute confidence. We love them, and when they're distressed, we're going to feel it. Inadvertently, we can align with their fear and send signals of danger, especially through nonverbals. 

What they need is for us to align with their 'brave' - that part of them that wants to do hard things and has the courage to do them. It might be small but it will be there. Like a muscle, courage strengthens with use - little by little, but the potential is always there.

First, let them feel you inside their world, not outside of it. This lets their anxious brain know that support is here - that you see what they see and you get it. This happens through validation. It doesn't mean you agree. It means that you see what they see, and feel what they feel. Meet the intensity of their emotion, so they can feel you with them. It can come off as insincere if your nonverbals are overly calm in the face of their distress. (Think a zen-like low, monotone voice and neutral face - both can be read as threat by an anxious brain). Try:

'This is big for you isn't it!' 
'It's awful having to do things you haven't done before. What you are feeling makes so much sense. I'd feel the same!

Once they really feel you there with them, then they can trust what comes next, which is your felt belief that they will be safe, and that they can do hard things. 

Even if things don't go to plan, you know they will cope. This can be hard, especially because it is so easy to 'catch' their anxiety. When it feels like anxiety is drawing you both in, take a moment, breathe, and ask, 'Do I believe in them, or their anxiety?' Let your answer guide you, because you know your young one was built for big, beautiful things. It's in them. Anxiety is part of their move towards brave, not the end of it.
Sometimes we all just need space to talk to someone who will listen without giving advice, or problem solving, or lecturing. Someone who will let us talk, and who can handle our experiences and words and feelings without having to smooth out the wrinkles or tidy the frayed edges. 

Our kids need this too, but as their important adults, it can be hard to hush without needing to fix things, or gather up their experience and bundle it into a learning that will grow them. We do this because we love them, but it can also mean that they choose not to let us in for the wrong reasons. 

We can’t help them if we don’t know what’s happening in their world, and entry will be on their terms - even more as they get older. As they grow, they won’t trust us with the big things if we don’t give them the opportunity to learn that we can handle the little things (which might feel seismic to them). They won’t let us in to their world unless we make it safe for them to.

When my own kids were small, we had a rule that when I picked them up from school they could tell me anything, and when we drove into the driveway, the conversation would be finished if they wanted it to be. They only put this rule into play a few times, but it was enough for them to learn that it was safe to talk about anything, and for me to hear what was happening in that part of their world that happened without me. My gosh though, there were times that the end of the conversation would be jarring and breathtaking and so unfinished for me, but every time they would come back when they were ready and we would finish the chat. As it turned out, I had to trust them as much as I wanted them to trust me. But that’s how parenting is really isn’t it.

Of course there will always be lessons in their experiences we will want to hear straight up, but we also need them to learn that we are safe to come to.  We need them to know that there isn’t anything about them or their life we can’t handle, and when the world feels hard or uncertain, it’s safe here. By building safety, we build our connection and influence. It’s just how it seems to work.♥️
.
#parenting #parenthood #mindfulparenting
Words can be hard sometimes. The right words can be orbital and unconquerable and hard to grab hold of. Feelings though - they’ll always make themselves known, with or without the ‘why’. 

Kids and teens are no different to the rest of us. Their feelings can feel bigger than words - unfathomable and messy and too much to be lassoed into language. If we tap into our own experience, we can sometimes (not all the time) get an idea of what they might need. 

It’s completely understandable that new things or hard things (such as going back to school) might drive thoughts of falls and fails and missteps. When this happens, it’s not so much the hard thing or the new thing that drives avoidance, but thoughts of failing or not being good enough. The more meaningful the ‘thing’ is, the more this is likely to happen. If you can look behind the words, and through to the intention - to avoid failure more than the new or difficult experience, it can be easier to give them what they need. 

Often, ‘I can’t’ means, ‘What if I can’t?’ or, ‘Do you think I can?’, or, ‘Will you still think I’m brave, strong, and capable of I fail?’ They need to know that the outcome won’t make any difference at all to how much you adore them, and how capable and exceptional you think they are. By focusing on process, (the courage to give it a go), we clear the runway so they can feel safer to crawl, then walk, then run, then fly. 

It takes time to reach full flight in anything, but in the meantime the stumbling can make even the strongest of hearts feel vulnerable. The more we focus on process over outcome (their courage to try over the result), and who they are over what they do (their courage, tenacity, curiosity over the outcome), the safer they will feel to try new things or hard things. We know they can do hard things, and the beauty and expansion comes first in the willingness to try. 
.
#parenting #mindfulparenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparent
Never in the history of forever has there been such a  lavish opportunity for a year to be better than the last. Not to be grabby, but you know what I’d love this year? Less opportunities that come in the name of ‘resilience’. I’m ready for joy, or adventure, or connection, or gratitude, or courage - anything else but resilience really. Opportunities for resilience have a place, but 2020 has been relentless with its servings, and it’s time for an out breath. Here’s hoping 2021 will be a year that wraps its loving arms around us. I’m ready for that. x
The holidays are a wonderland of everything that can lead to hyped up, exhausted, cranky, excited, happy kids (and adults). Sometimes they’ll cycle through all of these within ten minutes. Sugar will constantly pry their little mouths wide open and jump inside, routines will laugh at you from a distance, there will be gatherings and parties, and everything will feel a little bit different to usual. And a bit like magic. 

Know that whatever happens, it’s all part of what the holidays are meant to look like. They aren’t meant to be pristine and orderly and exactly as planned. They were never meant to be that. Christmas is about people, your favourite ones, not tasks. If focusing on the people means some of the tasks fall down, let that be okay, because that’s what Christmas is. It’s about you and your people. It’s not about proving your parenting stamina, or that you’ve raised perfectly well-behaved humans, or that your family can polish up like the catalog ones any day of the week, or that you can create restaurant quality meals and decorate the table like you were born doing it. Christmas is messy and ridiculous and exhausting and there will be plenty of frayed edges. And plenty of magic. The magic will happen the way it always happens. Not with the decorations or the trimmings or the food or the polish, but by being with the ones you love, and the ones who love you right back.

When it all starts to feel too important, too necessary and too ‘un-let-go-able’, be guided by the bigger truth, which is that more than anything, you will all remember how you all felt – as in how happy they felt, how loved they felt were, how noticed they felt. They won’t care about the instagram-worthy meals on the table, the cleanliness of the floors, how many relatives they visited, or how impressed other grown-ups were with their clean faces and darling smiles. It’s easy to forget sometimes, that what matters most at Christmas isn’t the tasks, but the people – the ones who would give up pretty much anything just to have the day with you.

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