How to Thrive not merely Survive during the Holidays

Holiday Stress

It is the most stressful time of year.  That’s just the regular holiday hubbub. Can you imagine the added stress of a tragedy, loss, divorce, isolation? Seemingly insurmountable pressures build during the most wonderful time of year.

When I was a young child, I remember serious shouting, swearing, and fighting about the holidays. Constant tension about which side of the family we would visit permeated the air. Merging the polar opposite families was out of the question. Plans to visit both sides, my mother’s and my father’s, bombed. For me, this time of year was filled with sadness and dread.

Stop the Insanity

At some point, I found the courage to exert myself into agitated dialogue, suggesting we stay home. Just us, our nuclear family. No side would feel favored over the other. Resentment would subside. Each side could be equally mad at us. We would have us and that was challenging enough.

Hostility, hurt feelings, resentment, and constant tension was replaced with a sense of relief after that decision was made. Mind you, we still had our annoyances and conflicts to deal with but on a much smaller scale.

Albert Einstein’s often cited definition of insanity, “do what you’ve always done and expect a different outcome”, is cause to pause and assess what we do that fuels the insanity. We get caught up in the habit, the way we’ve always done it. It’s like being stuck in a rut and a rut is just a grave with the ends cut out.

Just Say No

All you can do is all you can do and that is enough. We try to meet expectations and demands of others, putting our superhero cape on. We play out our roles and wonder why we feel miserable.

Pause and ask yourself what would happen if you said no. Maybe you can’t bake a zillion cookies this year. Maybe you are not able to get in a party hardy mood. Maybe you don’t need to put on an Oscar-winning performance.

You can’t please everybody, so sometimes you just have to please yourself. I believe Ricky Nelson said that in his song, Garden Party, created after a disappointing Madison Square Garden event.

Take Control

Cramming family into a tight living space may be okay in a disaster, but it can and does place added stress during a holiday visit. We all have our daily habits that can grate on others. Think about the bathroom rituals. I remember the first time I announced that I would be staying at a hotel. My family was stunned. That visit is one of my best memories.

Five tips to thrive

  1. People are what they are. They may not realize the impact of their behavior and actions on you. You may not be a target even though it feels like it. Their problem is theirs to own. Don’t make it yours by internalizing and personalizing it.
  2. Blind spots and biases exist and cause hurt. People are often unaware of their blind spots and biases. Don’t let anyone make you feel inferior.
  3. Keep hydrated and healthy. Water, water, water.  Make time for physical activity. It releases ‘feel good’ endorphins.
  4. Try countermeasures. Instead of playing typecast roles, use a different approach. Use someone’s real name instead of the historical label. Drop the “Fat Fredy” and replace it with Fred. Who we are is not who we were.
  5. Try compassion and understanding. My Mother used to say “it [the holiday] is just another day”. I think that was just her way of coping.

Points to Ponder

  • We can teach people how to treat us [change how you react]
  • Be kind to yourself [don’t get sucked into arguments]
  • Only you can control your thoughts [visualize funny, bizarre, soothng]
  • Know your emotional triggers [prepare and put your Armadillo hide on]
  • Smile [it makes others wonder what you’re up to]

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