Gift gluttony brain

I LOVE Christmas- to a crazy elf degree. My electricity bill shows it. But I hate the gluttonous part of it. Watch most holiday specials and they usually only get one well thought out gift, not 30 little gifts that will be set aside or thrown out in the next week. In my observation, my kids will be really excited for gifts at first, but will slowly not even acknowledge the gift inside the wrapping. The ‘thank yous’ and ‘wows’ turn into mindlessly moving to the next gift to unwrap. Not to mention the budget strain the holidays give to a small family, for objects that the kids don’t care about.

The brain on gift gluttony.

Initially when you open a gift you get a bump of dopamine from the excitement and anticipation. But as you open up the truck loads of gifts you brain can’t keep up and stops these bumps. As you become overwhelmed your frontal lobe deadens in activity. This reduces cognitive processing, memory, judgement, and impulse control. This is the point you start to quickly move through gifts without thought, stop using social protocols like ‘thank yous’, and get the look of being ‘out of it’ (not mindful or aware of your environment). Let’s avoid this gluttony brain this holiday season. Here is some tactics to making sure you and your kids get the most ‘happy brain’ through the gift receiving season.

-Limit gifts.

My delightful friend Nancy made me aware of a wonderful article by ‘Money Saving Sisters’ that discussed a Christmas Gift Challenge that I really think is a great idea. It breaks gift giving into four categories: 1) Something they want, 2) Something they need, 3) Something to wear, 4) Something to read.

Ask yourself these questions:

1) Have they asked for this specifically?

2) Is this something they can really use in day to day activities?

3) Is it a clothing item they can continue to use in the coming months?

4) Is it a book or educational?

This has helped me keep gift giving practical and at a reasonable number.

-Give experiences.

Time is way more valuable than anything you can purchase. Taking time to experience life with someone creates bonding and memories. All of these outlive any material good you could give. Go see lights, eat a nice meal, make gingerbread houses- create traditions and memories they will pass down for generations.

-Take a break.

If you find that your kids or yourself are getting overwhelmed or are no longer ‘in the moment’; it is time to take a time out. This doesn’t necessarily mean being sent to your room or pouting in the corner. We are looking for a ‘state change’ of feeling like you are back in your body and can identify emotions. Getting a snack, taking a sip of your coffee (or hot chocolate), having a side conversation with a loved one, or just focusing on how beautiful the tree is will help you feel more present and ready to soak in the cheer of the holiday.

My Challenge to you: Take a moment and note how your kids/relatives act during the holidays. Do you think that the ‘gift gluttony brain’ happens in your family? Make a plan for how many gifts each person should get, different ways to enjoy the holidays that is not gift giving, and create a ‘take a break’ protocol. You will not be able to control what your friends and family do as far as gift giving so voice your wants (one gift per household or secret santa type of gift giving). The ‘take a break’ protocol is very important when it comes to these situations because you can que your kids (and yourself) into it when you get overwhelmed.

Happy holiday adventures friends!

-Jessie the Therapist

Photo by:Roberto Nickson

Jessie Shepherd is a Mental Health Counselor and owner of Blue Clover Therapy in Utah. She has a Masters Degree in Mental Health Counseling from the University of Phoenix and a Bachelors degree in Psychology from the University of Utah. Her focus is treating trauma, eating disorders and adjustment issues in adults, adolescents, children and their families. She utilizes Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Play Therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Neurological Feedback.

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