I love the festive season, as apart from the traditional significance, it seems to be about packing as much fun things in a month as possible, often focused around being with friends and family. However, it can also be extremely stressful as there are end of year work deadlines, gifts to buy and people to spend time with who perhaps are not regulars in your social life (I’m amused that there is a new theatre show devoted to the perils of the office party!)
The certainty of Christmas and what happens on what day is appreciated by our human brain and can explain why rituals are widespread across the different cultures in the world. You may have noticed as your stress levels increase, you need more certainty in your life e.g. knowing exactly what time you are travelling to go away, when someone is ringing you back etc. This is because the brain is wired for certainty (and automation) and views uncertainty as a potential threat to your life: the more anxious you are, generally the greater need for certainty. You might be thinking of people you know that fit this description however, neuroscientists have found that we all have this basic need, possibly in varying degrees. I believe that it increases as we get older too.
Therefore, you will not be surprised that many preventable disagreements and arguments derive from uncertainty. Examples include hostility from employees as they face an uncertain future and are being kept in the dark from their managers, to being non-committal as to when you are going arrive at your parents’ home at Christmas. I hope that my Mum is smiling now: I have learnt the hard way to overcome that one!
So providing certainty is good for your brain and good for the other person’s. You are then enabling your brain the best circumstances for its cognitive capacities to do what it is designed to do: think, be creative, solve challenges, recognise emotions, make connections and enjoy rewards.
Next time you find yourself or another person getting stressed consider whether there is some uncertainty and what you can do to assuage this: notice what happens.