We all want our holiday family gatherings to be times of positive, loving interactions and of basking in the warm feeling that comes from being with people we love.
However, this is often not the case for many people. For these folks, and maybe you are one of them, these holiday family gatherings can be a source of great stress because of the expectation of conflict and dysfunction. These type of holiday family gatherings have the potential to steal your holiday cheer and leave you in a bad place for weeks.
The truth is that sometimes the people we love can get under our skin.They can say and do things that trigger negative reactions in us such as anger, irritation and sadness, causing us to strike back, making the situation worse.
Politics,religion, and people interfering in your personal life or business are just a few of the triggers that can be the cause of arguments, conflict and tension at holiday family gatherings.
Throw alcohol into the mix and these holiday family gatherings can become volatile to the point that after the party is over, family members are not even speaking to each other. How to deal with these potentially stressful situations?
The key is to be prepared. You could simply decide not to go or attempt to fake your own death to get out of it. However, if you do decide to attend your holiday family gatherings, here are some suggestions on how to stay calm and in control.
How to prepare and deal with holiday family gatherings.
1. Have an intention and decide your outcome ahead of time. Be clear about how you want to be at the holiday family gatherings. Have a goal for how you want to feel and respond. Create the outcome that you will leave feeling good about your visit.
For instance, suppose that every time you get together with your mother, you get impatient and frustrated, leaving you to you feel terrible afterwards. Before you see her again, make it your goal to be calm, loving, patient and kind. You might even write it down: “My intention is to be calm loving, patient and kind when I see my mother on Christmas day.”
Of course, you can also have the intention that you’re going to verbally destroy anyone that attempts to mess with you at the holiday family gatherings, but this is not a good way to stay sane during the holidays.
2. Identify the triggers. Think back to previous family gatherings about what happened that triggered negative emotions or reactions from you. Is it what someone says or does? Is it a particular topic of conversation? If you are aware of the potential negative triggers, and can keep your positive outcome in mind, you are more likely to stay in control.
3. Have a response ready when these triggers occur. If your outcome is to be calm, centered and balanced during holiday family gatherings, then decide what you will you do when the triggers appear. For instance, when someone brings up that topic of discussion that you know is going to cause trouble, you might:
- Smile and say, “I really don’t want to talk about that right now.”
- Excuse yourself and go to the restroom or go outside and take some deep breaths.
- Make a joke out of it and change the subject.
- Use the STOP method: Stop, Take a breath, Observe your body, emotions and thoughts, and proceed in a way that honors you, the other and your relationship.
Of course, as a last resort, you can always be prepared to leave if things get too out of hand. It’s a tough choice but sometimes it’s the right one.
4. Create your own positive trigger. This is a technique where you have a “power word”, phrase or a physical action that triggers a positive response. Put yourself into a relaxed state before you go to the holiday family function. You can imagine yourself in a relaxing place, or just breathe and release stress and tension. On each exhalation, say your word or phrase, such as “Calm” or “I can deal with this” or “In control”. Do something physical such as rub your fingers together while you are doing this. The idea is that you form an association between rubbing your fingers/saying your power word with a relaxed state so that when you feel those negative triggers threatening to derail you, you can use your positive trigger to get back to being calm, centered and balanced.
You may not be able to change your family dynamic, but you can always have control over how you respond. This holiday season, see if you can let go of the past, stay in present, and expect only the best from the future.
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