‘Twas the night before Christmas…and family dynamics are taking a toll. There are the folks you see often and those less regularly. Some relationships are easy and welcome. Others …well, other relationships may grate on your nerves. Let’s face it, some family members seem to have a knack for hitting your hot buttons and setting off triggered reactions–-easily and often. And yet, it’s a season to enjoy good cheer and egg nog. Here are four tips for resourcing yourself to remain cheerful without a punch-bowl full of egg nog as reinforcement.
• Identify your expectations beforehand. My husband and I learned this technique years ago and, honestly, it has been a life-saver. Before a family or social event, we discuss our expectations. We share what each of us would like to get out of the occasion. For example, I may want to spend quiet time with a distant cousin whom I haven’t seen in years, and not be drawn into group caroling. Without this knowledge, my husband may innocently seek me out from a cozy corner conversation and put me on the spot to go caroling. Instinctively, my body would tense and I would likely react more harshly than necessary. Clarifying expectations in advance puts us on the same page and allows us to prevent misunderstandings before they take place. Before your next event, try this: Ask yourself what the family event will be like in your ideal world? How will it unfold? Who will you spend time with? What will you do and not do? If you are the hosts, then do you want to have a quiet party at home, or book a venue in Birmingham? Now share that information with your spouse, partner or friend. And listen to their ideal scenario. Together you provide mutual support and you are more likely to have a positive experience.
• Think about who and what will be triggers. Many of our triggers or hot buttons are known and repeatable: “If Aunt Harriet tells that same story about the turkey again, I’ll scream!” “You know that Cousin Jim is going to spend all evening talking about his investment skills.” “I can’t bear another of Ann’s discussions about government conspiracy theories.” Whatever the story, you already know it because it happens every year and every year it is annoying. This year, prepare in advance. What are the people, situations and issues that trip your trigger? How will you handle it when it comes up again? Maybe you can simply walk away to refill a drink, get a snack or find someone else to talk with. Maybe you can make a light joke that deflects the discussion to another topic (“Ha, ha, Ann! As if the government is organized enough to create a conspiracy!”). In one event, my husband and I had a code word. If either of us became frustrated with a conversation, we’d work in the word, “pineapple.” That was code to provide the other person with an exit strategy. Whatever your technique, it works best when you proactively identify triggers in advance.
• Create a calming toolkit for use in that environment. You can’t predict every situation but you can create your own personal toolkit of calming techniques to use in the moment. For example, when I need a brief respite, I simply walk outside for a few breaths of fresh air and a moment to reflect on nature. You may be able to let your mind wander to pleasant thoughts when the conversation goes in an uncomfortable direction. Bathrooms are havens of quiet in the hub-bub of a loud, high-energy event. I confess to loitering a bit longer than necessary to catch my breath, center myself, take some deep breaths and reconnect with my expectations. Find the techniques that provide you with those few, precious moments to come back to yourself.
• Take time for yourself. Even during (particularly during) intense family events, it’s important to take time for yourself. I’m fortunate that my husband’s family is gracious when I say, “I’m going to sit in the corner for a few minutes and read my new novel.” Most people respect the space you need to recharge. This is especially important for those of us who are introverts and need quiet to replenish our energy. Make a commitment to yourself to carve out a bit of time to be with you and only you. What is your plan – read, go for a short walk, listen to music, nap? When might it fit into the rhythm of the day? Let your spouse, partner or family member in on the plan so that they are not surprised when you retreat and regroup. When you emerge, your energy will be higher and you will be more present for everyone else.
The holidays are a special time to connect with friends and family. Take a few moments to resource yourself to remain merry and bright. It will make the time together even better and you can enjoy the egg nog, too.
Happy holidays to all…and to all a good night.
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