With the Holidays fast approaching, many of us will be traveling to see friends and family members that we haven’t seen in quite some time. This reality brings a myriad of thoughts and feelings – some positive, and some not so much. Relationships are often challenging, especially ones with family members that we didn’t choose, but were born into. Every family has its own interesting / challenging dynamic. Every family (that I have ever known or heard of) has one or two members that are especially interesting / challenging. If one doesn’t come to mind, then they say that you’re the interesting / challenging one in your family! So, what can we do this upcoming holiday season to help manage the stress that often accompanies family get-togethers and celebrations? Well, there are A LOT of things we can do, and not do (which is often harder and more effective) to help manage stress and conflict and maximize enjoyment and peace when spending time with family and friends. Let me mention just a few practical ideas that can be summed up with the following words,
PREPARE, PAUSE, PROCESS, and PLAN.
Being prepared here has less to do with pie baking and gift wrapping, and more to do with anticipating the challenging dynamics and interesting people you are about to “enjoy” for hours or even days on end (gulp). A question you can ask yourself is “what (or who) am I not looking forward to or dreading the most?” Maybe it’s the topics that come up at the dinner table. Maybe it’s the level of shouting as people discuss things more passionately as more adult beverages are consumed. Maybe it’s the family member who always seems to give you the perfect back-handed “compliment” that hits the button they and you know far too well. So, anticipate these things and think about why they “trigger” you and what they are triggering inside of you. What hurt or wound is connected to the trigger or button? Maybe it’s a childhood insecurity being exposed. Maybe it’s a challenging relationship that you desperately wished was more loving and accepting. Do the best you can to be prepared now for the challenges sure to come. The following words are all part of being prepared.
“Be prepared now for the challenges sure to come.”
Ok, you’ve just arrived to Aunt Ethel’s house for family Thanksgiving, now what? Well, sometimes the best and hardest thing to do is nothing at all! We’ll call this taking a pause. This can take the form of an internal or invisible pause where you process (see below) what’s going on around you and what’s going on inside of you. Ask, “am I feeling triggered” meaning is a wound or insecurity from the past being affected, causing an inappropriate reaction or irrational thoughts or feelings? Ask, “what is my body telling me? Am I tense? “Is my heart racing? Am I feeling “jumpy”? While pausing, you can choose to do some deep breathing, or tell yourself something helpful or encouraging that you have prepared.
Your pause can also take the form of an external or visible pause where you quietly and respectfully excuse yourself from the situation to process and do something to help you manage your feelings, as well as helping you avoid the reaction that usually comes. Again, deep breathing can help.
Getting outside for a few minutes of brink air can help. Going to the bathroom and splashing some cold water in your face or on your neck helps. All the while, remind yourself what you have prepared to do and why it’s important. Pausing helps us stay grounded in the “here and now” which helps slow down our thinking and breathing and helps us regulate our emotions and response to stress. Pausing helps us be able to respond to a challenging moment, rather than merely react.
“Pausing helps us be able to respond to a challenging
moment, rather than merely react.”
Processing can mean a lot of different things to everyone, which is wonderful. Let these four words prompt other ideas and ways to improve your upcoming social interactions. Processing can mean sharing your feelings of dread with someone you trust. Processing can mean taking an honest inventory of your thoughts, feelings, and triggers. Processing can take place in the preparation phase and is also crucial to the pause phase. Processing can help us learn from our thoughts, feelings, and body. Either while we are practicing grounding skills (breathing, brisk walk, cold water…) or afterwards, we can process our thoughts or “self-talk” by asking ourselves “what else is true?”. We can process or ask ourselves “what am I really feeling?”, and we can begin to realize earlier than we ever have before when our body is telling us something important.
“Processing can help us learn from our thoughts, feelings,
Planning is in a way, very similar of course to being prepared. The caveat here is to be prepared ahead of time to come up with potential Plan A’s, Plan B’s, and even Plan C’s, depending on what happens around you, to you, and in you. Ask yourself, “if this happens, what are my options?” Again, pausing can often be a good option, but what else can be helpful and healthy for you in case pausing isn’t enough? This touches on the need for healthy and assertive communication skills and the need to set and keep healthy boundaries. To keep it simple, assertive communication centers on sharing with others what we are needing, wanting, and feeling, in a healthy and productive way. Communicating assertively usually involves being some form of honest and kind. Where we may naturally want to avoid conflict and stuff our feelings and needs, we may begin to tell someone “I don’t like it when you do that, please stop.” Where we may naturally get aggressive or angry and blow up, we may begin to pause, regulate, and be able to do the very same thing, “I don’t like it when you do that, please stop.” Another option may need to be thinking through your limits and when you may need to remove yourself from the situation all together. Again, the goal is to do this in a healthy and productive way which can be prepared for, planned ahead-of time, and guided by pausing in the moment. Rather than screaming and throwing a fit, or crying and saying something we may regret, we can choose to say nothing, or something like “I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed, so I am going to leave now. I love you and will talk to you soon.”
“Assertive communication centers on sharing with others
what we are needing, wanting, and feeling, in a healthy
and productive way.”
So, let’s do the best we can to go into this upcoming holiday season willing to PREPARE, PROCESS, PAUSE, and PLAN for as good of time with family and friends as possible!