holiday stress

Dealing successfully with uncomfortable, high-stress (holiday) situations

There is no stress like the stress of having to be nice to people you don’t actually feel like being nice to. Welcome to the holiday season.

Here in America we are bombarded with Christmas music in every shop, the usual avalanche of decorations and advertisements, and furrow our brows with irritation at the sense of duty and obligation that sometimes seem to just come with the season.

Big family get-togethers can bring out the worst in everyone as old family patterns come to the surface. You’re dealing with your stuff. Other people are dealing with their stuff. Their stuff sets off your stuff, your stuff sets off their stuff and pretty soon you’re all yelling at the top of your lungs — or pursing your lips and pretending nothing happened, depending on your family’s history, patterns, ethnic/cultural make-up …

Patterns are everywhere: you have your personal emotional and mental patterns, your family has its group behavioral patterns, and under duress it’s easy to default to your absolute worst patterns.

Your patterns show up and are reflected in everything you do; relationships, work, the way you treat your body, the way you interact with strangers and everything else that happens to you in any given moment. So if you add stress + patterns + family + “having to” be nice, it’s going to descend into a big messy, uncomfortable Kerfuffle, if you will. Yes, my people say kerfuffle.

The way out of the stress and into the self-learning process is through compassionate interaction with yourself. The better you get at being kind to yourself, the easier it becomes for this pattern to be reflected into your interactions with others. It’s a process, and to say that it isn’t always easy is an understatement.

6 quick tips for surviving high-stress family and/or group situations

1: There is no such thing as feeling insulted

If you sense that you’re being “insulted”, remember what a wise teacher of mine once said to me: being insulted means you suspect a kernel of truth in the accusation. If your brother-in-law tells you your “hot pink wings make you look like a wanton buffoon”, you probably won’t be offended (assuming that you don’t actually have wings).

If he says, “Nice love handles”, then it hurts, because you suspect he might be right. When the hurt comes up, remember that this is your stuff. Find out why you think this remark feels true, and why it hurts. Give yourself a hug.

2: There is also no such thing as feeling betrayed, rejected or attacked

I know it seems like there has to be, since we think we feel these things all the time. The distinction is that these are all judgments, not feelings. “Angry”, “sad” and “irritated” are feelings. “Betrayed”, “rejected” and “attacked” are plot summaries from the narrator’s point of view.

3: Try to describe the feeling

Go for what you are feeling instead of summarizing what you think is happening. For example, “I am noticing that I’m feeling really annoyed when Uncle Leopold doesn’t speak to me, because I need to be acknowledged and encouraged.” Once you have worked through the feelings, then you’ll have some more clarity around what’s actually going on. You don’t have to speak these out loud; it’s often enough just to get clear in your own head.

4: You are entitled to feel what you feel — be it angry, sad or any other FEELING

As you practice using feeling words rather than judgment words, remind yourself that whatever you are feeling is okay. Whatever you are feeling is what you are feeling. Notice when you are loading up your feelings with extra layers of guilt and obligation (“What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just stop being annoyed about this?”). If you’re feeling annoyed, let yourself feel annoyed. It doesn’t define you. It’s a temporary moment and you’re allowed to be in it.

5: Practice Miller’s Law

If your Aunt Hildy says something that sounds crazy or mean, try assuming that what she said makes sense somehow and work backwards, asking the following question: “If I assume that what she just said is true, what is it true of?” (Or: “how is it true?”)

Use the moment to learn something about yourself (how you think, how you react) and/or something about Aunt Hildy (what she needs). Don’t operate according to your assumptions of subtext or hidden meanings based on the past. Instead, try assuming that things make sense and then figure out what part of the pattern you’re not seeing or hearing.

6: The art of “taking a moment”

Give yourself time out whenever you need it. If it’s possible, try saying, “Excuse me, I need a moment to myself”. If that’s not going to work, retreat to the bathroom for a few minutes or go read a book to one of the kids. Taking a moment to regroup, reconnect to your intention and check in with yourself is a huge help. Give yourself plenty of moments to practice being kind to yourself.

The Fluent Self