Six Strategies for a Stress Free Season

It’s that time of year again. The holidays are such an exciting time for some, but for others it can also stir up difficult emotions; overwhelm, anxiety and loneliness.  The level of expectations can be intense. There is an inordinate amount of time and pressure put upon ourselves to create a memorable season. It’s bull dookie! I don’t know about you, but I was feeling like the holidays were making a demand on my time before Halloween even hit.  It’s the uncanny knowing that no matter how much you try to set clear boundaries and politely decline offers, your days will be filled with commitments, leaving you wondering how you got to this same place all over again. Managing the holidays is an art in humility because it’s hard not to feel like you are making the same mistakes over and over again.  Below are six tips to get you through the stressful family circumstances, overwhelm and demands on time.  

Don’t sweat the little stuff-It seems like every year there is this expectation to create a holiday fantasy for everyone; kids, extended family, the neighbor who gets a little too tipsy at the block parties yet always manages to end up on the holiday gift giving list.  Getting caught up in the expectation that every moment needs to be special and unforgettable is sometimes hard to avoid. The emotional labor that goes into that kind of planning is exhausting and often futile. It’s difficult to know beforehand what’s going to create a lasting memory.  Think of the countless times you’ve tried to make the perfect dinner that was oh so flawed or bought the ideal gift only to find it ends up on the pile of all the other gifts that person received. Please, give yourself a break and take some things off the to do list. It’s okay if you don’t wipe down the floor boards or rearrange the wood pile because the in-laws are coming.  The things that truly need to happen always have a way of getting done.

Self care-Take the time to relax and do the things you enjoy; always, but especially during stressful times like the holiday season.  People often take vacation from work, but they don’t actually take time off. Instead they find that they are more drained when they go back to work than before they left.  Carve out some space to replenish yourself and do the things that feel good. Whether it is; listening to ASMR recordings, taking a long bath, or going to that yoga class that seems to be the only thing that makes you feel sane.  Whatever it is you do renew your energy, make that a priority. 

Boundaries-Overwhelmed during the holidays can be a serious issue because boundaries get blurred.  Knowing your limits is one of the building blocks of healthy relationships, including the one you have with yourself.  If you are feeling overextended it’s ok to ask for help; it’s also okay to say no. Sometimes saying no is hard because the idea of disappointing someone or making them angry leads to feelings of vulnerability.  We’ve all had the experience of committing to something out of obligation or worry that feelings will be hurt or we’ll be shunned. There is a possibility that may happen, however most people will understand. By setting a clear boundary with yourself, you are honoring the time you need to refuel.  Most importantly, you’ll be saving yourself from the dread and resentment that comes with saying yes when you really know the answer should be no. 

Your emotions are for you-No one knows how to push buttons quite like family and when everyone is all together it’s sometimes challenging not to fall back into your designated familial role.  That being said it’s also important to recognize that even though there may be a family member who is getting on your nerves, they are in fact your nerves. When we are in a situation where we are being triggered, the go to for most people is to put the blame outside of ourselves.  Sure, your 6th cousin twice removed on your mother’s side might be acting like a jackass, but you are the only person who has any control over your own emotions. Recognizing that you are the one who gets to decide if you are going to react to another person who is directing charged behavior towards you can be extremely empowering. Instead of putting the other person in control of your equanimity and happiness by expecting them to change, you can defuse own your feelings.  One way to approach this is to ask yourself why the situation makes you upset. Often childhood programming is driving behavior and identifying your feelings makes it easier to unravel your defenses. What scared you as a child is something the adult you is perfectly capable of handling. This can take a bit of practice and even a seasoned pro may have an off day, but when you pull it off it feels emancipating. It also doesn’t hurt to have an exit strategy if you are worried about things going horribly awry.  No one ever said you have to endure a situation that is chaotic or hurtful. If you need a moment, take a bathroom break or a walk outside. Similarly,if you want to leave, maybe you’ve suddenly developed a splitting headache. Those are all reasonable options. However the gathering goes, be gentle with yourself and understand that you are doing the best you can.  

Compassionate listening-Vietnamese monkThich Nhat Han talks about a form of compassion called deep listening or compassionate listening.  As the name implies it is a form of compassion, yet it is also a useful tool to navigate the sticky situations that are common among family gatherings and holiday parties. Politics, religions, these are the breeding grounds for triggering conversations. Sometimes people identify so strongly with their beliefs that when confronted with an opposing view it feels threatening to their sense of self.  When I find myself in a situation where I’m with people that I disagree with, the deep listening takes me outside of myself to perform a service and healing for others. The idea is to be a space for that person to open up and pour out their thoughts. You might disagree with what they are saying, but stay grounded and stick with the listening. Being an attentive presence allows for acceptance in that moment.  It opens you up to an experience that is outside of the constructs of the ego and stepping away from that provides a shift in perspective and leads to greater connection. The surprising outcome is that in allowing space, compassion and listening for the other person, you are better able to offer those feelings for yourself.  

Be present-You’ve chosen to be with these people for a reason, perhaps because you love them or despite difficulties you enjoy being with them.  Set aside the stress and history and recognize that togetherness is the reason you are there. What happened in the past does not have to color any one gathering. Take peace in knowing that there is only ever this moment and everything else is either a story of the past or the future.  Be here now and it can shift your how you see everything around you.  

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