Sure hope you have enjoyed the holiday season. Mine has been full of family and friends and gratitude. Yesterday, I had the 'Good' (saw an old acquaintance of mine whose wife just completed a new school to learn how to live 'blind' as she has lost her eyesight and they were thrilled with all that she learned), the 'Bad' (ran into another old friend who is battling cancer) and the 'Ugly' (my neighbor lost two daughters in a tragic car accident over the weekend).
And yet time marches on. Tomorrow marks the passing of an entire year and the promise of a new one. Whether we like it or not, life moves along it's highway while we zoom in and out. Every New Year's Eve I write out everything I want to get rid of from the past year (and I mean everything) - then I burn it and let it go. It's an empowering ritual that gives one pause. Tonight especially I'm reflective, hopeful, thankful and happy to be here. Hugs.
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tradition, holidays, coping, depression, family stress, social situations, self-management, self-help, inspiration, sleep, boundaries, overwhelm, respect, judge, perspective, expectations, gratitude, dysfunction, control
Here’s a flash: the holidays are not a time when you have to appear in front of the family to defend yourself. If someone pointedly asks you why you haven’t gotten a new car/job/lover/whatever this year, you don’t have to explain yourself. Want more tips for enjoying the holidays with family?
In my previous blog, I've posted ten tips to surviving the holidays and having a good time. Here's some more helpful tips:
11. Choose the tradition. Now I know this is really creepy for some but the truth is that traditions started with what? – with something starting, something happening. SO. If the tradition in place has been to stay up until 2:00 in the morning making a special cookie because that’s what you’ve ‘always done’ – and you can hardly keep your eyes open and no one really eats the cookies anyways, then guess what? You can alter or change the tradition and make things easier for you.
It’s your responsibility to do what is good for you and as a result, sometimes things have to change. Just as traditions can provide us the comfort of knowing what to expect and the sameness of it all, they can also provide us the angst and resentment of staying the course ‘because we always have’. Although it might feel like we have no options, the truth is we do and you can learn to let go and take care of you.
12. Sleep baby, sleep. Holidays = not enough time to do everything = lack of sleep. And as we have always heard, you can’t underestimate the need for sleep during the holidays. Lack of sleep equals stress, weight gain, anxiety, restlessness, sensitivity, and reduced ability to cope with the holidays.
There is no extra time, I get it – but there IS the option of missing a TV show, buying the rolls instead of making them and not decorating the bathroom with holiday decorations this year. What if you let go of making homemade cookies and bought something yummy instead and then took 45 minutes for a quick nap? It doesn’t have to be a big deal, it can just be a quick reprieve from the grind. Taking care of you should be your number one priority, period. Without this in place, everything else fails. Get your sleep and keep your calm.
13. Say no with a smile. You don’t have to attend every party and every event. Really. It’s ok to skip or decline invitations. Do what is best for you. This doesn’t mean you are ‘bad’ or not a good friend of selfish if you are simply too overwhelmed to do anything else. No need to be rude or unappreciative of others kind invitations but if it’s a push for you, then it might be time to consider whether or not you should go.
You can always send a note, small gift or call to schedule some time with your friends; it’s ok to be stretched for time. It’s a busy time yes, but when you are busy to the point of complaining constantly and not enjoying yourself, then it’s time to consider what works and what doesn’t. Just smile, say no thank you and move along.
14. Blended families anyone? Chances are pretty high that your holidays will include some form or fashion of blended families. A few general guidelines to help everyone involved:
15. Respect others. So what are you to do when there are various religions within the family or (this is often harder) opposing political beliefs? Agree to disagree and realize that the holidays are not the time to duke it out and make your point. There are many choices in life - religious preference, sexuality preference, what we do, how we look and where we live, what we eat, what we pierce, how we clean, how much we drink, what we laugh at. The holidays do not provide you a free ‘I’m going to judge this’ ticket. Remember as we judge, we are judged.
You’ll thrive during the holidays if you realize we are all just people, showing up every day, doing the best that we can. My personal belief is that it is our duty as humans to respect everyone. Remember, those that you don’t like didn’t choose to be different just to be judged by you. They are simply showing up, just like you. You may not like them, and you don’t have to, but respect is something we all deserve.
16. Perspective – let’s remember that for any one of these holidays, it’s a DAY, simply a day. A special day no doubt, but it is in fact, simply a day. 24 little hours that we embrace to celebrate our beliefs. If you get stuck in the moment, think over the day and remember that in 48 hours this too will pass and you’ll be done. If you are frustrated with what’s going on, break it down to hour-by-hour or even minute-by-minute. There is no need to ‘hate’ the holiday when it is simply a day that brings people together – you may not like the food or the company or the traditions – but the actual day is simply something to move through.
You can make it special for you by taking five minutes for a quiet cup of coffee or staying up to watch a new movie or ordering expensive take out after a bad meal. When stuck, remind yourself that it’s just a day. Keep your expectations aligned with reality, don’t put too much into the wrong category (gifts, food, people, conversations, etc.) and move through the day.
17. Give to give. A gift is a gift and it should not come with expectations. It’s lovely to receive the handwritten thank you note (and as I was raised, expected) and it makes you feel grand to get the enthusiastic thank you call. But the true meaning of giving a gift is to give – not for what you expect in return. I do what I feel is right for me but I don’t judge those that weren’t raised like I was who don’t do the same. How could I? It makes no sense to give a gift with little strings attached that the receiver isn’t aware of or doesn’t understand. The true nature of giving provides you a wonderful gift in return – that of knowing you gave your best. Being angry at what someone did or didn’t do when they received your gift, takes away from the entire process.
18. Be gracious. We have all received the gifts that make us wonder – why did I get this and what the heck is going on. One year, thinking he liked anything political, my Mom gave her new father-in-law an autobiography about Harry Truman. He opened the gift and said ‘I hate this son of a bitch’ and then after we all finished laughing, said to my Mom, ‘well thank you for giving me a book, I love to read’. I was so impressed with him – I couldn’t get over how he was real and yet gracious. My Mom is probably the worst gift-giver (that is not the only holiday we have had with reactions like this) and yet through it all, I’ve noticed and learned how to be gracious. Just thank the person, a simple thank you will do – after all, they put forth the effort to give you something (whatever that may be) and as the old saying goes, ‘it is the thought that counts’ (careful here, don’t try to read too much into the thought, it’s a gift, just accept it and offer gratitude).
19. Friends are family. I have found that this phrase alone has kept me centered – realizing that friends are indeed, family; I feel blessed to have many wonderful friends in my world that understand and support me. And so, by definition, my family is large. If your traditional ‘family’ consists of toxic people, people who pull you down instead of raising you up or are not supportive then lean into your other family - your friends - and take comfort from them. Just because your blood family doesn’t embrace you, does not mean that your holidays have to be spent swirling around dysfunction. You can do both – attend the traditional family event for a brief period of time and also celebrate with your friends, or extended family. After all, they are in your world and part of your family too.
20. Overlook the obvious. Yes, Aunt Sally is still a drunk and, yes, your Dad is still hard of hearing and repeats everything you say and, yes, your adult daughter is dating a guy 25 years older than her, and, yes, the grandkids scream way too much and you don’t approve of how they are being raised. So there it is, all of this muck that you don’t like and focus on. Do yourself a favor - overlook the obvious, enjoy what you can and get on with the day.
Reality check: you are not going to change anything by complaining, focusing and pushing your opinion; the only thing you can control is YOU. When you really sit back and look at it, overlooking the obvious will keep you and your day on a good path because the energy used to find the bad and focus on what you don’t like can take more effort than the energy used to find the good. Embrace what you can and let the rest go.
21. Thank you world. Gratitude is such a wonderful tool that many of us don’t utilize. The best tip I could give anyone would be to find the good. It’s there. It is. I promise. If you live in America today, you are in the top .01% of people who have EVER lived! If you are reading this, if you have a home and food, you are blessed more than you know. It’s so easy to find what we don’t want instead of appreciating what we have.
Gratitude for the simple fact that you are here and alive is a start. The truth is, it’s not ALL good but there IS something to be grateful for. Me? I’m thankful for the time and ability to write this information out – it comes from tearful holidays, hurt feelings and many hard lessons in life. Looking back, I’m grateful for them all, as they have provided insight that I am now able to share with others. And now, with a warm hug and thank you, I send you the best for a peaceful and joyous holiday season filled with gratitude.
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And away we go! They are here again! The holidays have arrived and the daily demands of time, money and resources begin. These little thoughts, nudges and whispers are for you, not for your kids, your spouse or your family. Simply for you, and you alone. These aren’t tips for how to cook, what to buy, what to wear, what to give or where to go.
Now let’s just put it out there, many people (and I mean many) do not like the holidays. Period. Yet the truth is, it really doesn’t matter if you like the holidays or not – they are here and just by virtue of time moving along, you have to cope and manage. Crazy Aunt Toots and your demanding mother-in-law are going to show up no matter how you feel. So let’s focus on you and look at some ideas to help you manage your feelings and get through these days.
Holidays by definition traditionally include the Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year's Day celebrations. But we all get together with loved ones, no matter what our spiritual beliefs. I’m not agnostic or diagnostic – I would never tell you who to worship or what to believe or what holidays are important to celebrate. So let’s just put it out there, these tips will help you no matter what your belief system is, as we all have family, relatives and occasions to celebrate.
So here we go, tips and help:
1. Use your boundaries. Simple, easy and needed, understanding and using boundaries will keep your holidays manageable. Boundaries are like buckets – each of us has our bucket of stuff to manage. I carry mine and you carry yours. It’s not really your concern if your sister is working at a crappy job of which you don’t approve. And, it’s not Uncle Joe’s issue if he doesn’t like your new girlfriend or how long your hair is. These are issues that are not for others to judge, yet judge they will. Understanding and paying attention to the role of boundaries can keep you aware of what is appropriate and where to put your attention. Just the simple act of recognizing this can save you tons of grief. Keep your boundaries, keep your cool, keep your joy.
2. No explanation needed. Here’s a flash: the holidays are not a time when you have to appear in front of the family to defend yourself. If someone pointedly asks you why you haven’t gotten a new car/job/lover/whatever this year, you don’t have to explain yourself. You might feel as if you do but you really don’t. If you get the raised eyebrow or the scornful look, it’s your job to let it go. You know why? Because it’s the better option in terms of taking care of you, that’s why. Really, what will you accomplish by trying to make your point or defend your decision? You know what is good for you, you are the manager of your life, so keep it at that and don’t feel the need to explain yourself away.
3. Watch for the hook. You know those little comments dropped off for you to pick up? The little innuendos that are meant to get you to engage in some sort of controversy or argument? This takes some practice as we are all inclined to simply answer questions as they arise. These hooks are usually passive aggressive attempts to engage, so just stay away baby, stay away. Want some options you can use instead of feeling like you have to answer? If you are asked a question and you don’t want to answer, here are some options: (1) I’ll have to think about that (2) I really couldn’t say (3) Jeez, I am not sure (4) Well, what do you think? and the most powerful of them all (5) I really don’t feel like getting into that. You don’t have to answer every question asked of you. “Why did you do this?” can be met with “I don’t want to talk about this now” Boom. End of issue.
4. Children? Prepare them please. Help them out; give them the groundwork for the day and event. Pinched cheeks, offhanded comments about how they look, and food offered to them that they don’t want to touch, etc. can bring about added stress neither of you need to deal with. Manners are one thing, but forcing them to act differently is another. Arm them with information and teach them how to manage these situations. Who is coming, who is not, what you will eat, when you will leave, what you expect in terms of behavior, what you don’t, etc. are all issues to discuss. The more you prepare them and teach them, the better able they will be to manage the day. They too, will grow up and when they become adults and have their own families to manage.
5. Use ‘I’ statements. Using ‘I’ statements is one of the easiest things you can do to manage your conversations. If you have children, make sure to teach them this as well. ‘I’ statements are important b/c they keep a conversation neutral. So let’s roll play. Mom comes in and says to you. ‘Why didn’t you come on vacation with us this summer? You really disappointed your father.’ Now you can say “you always jump me when I come in the door, leave me alone.’ Fair enough. But this creates animosity with both of you and puts you on the defensive.
Here’s another option, we’ll start at the beginning again: Mom comes in and says to you, ‘Why didn’t you come on vacation with us this summer? You really disappointed your father.’ Now you say “I really don’t want to discuss this with you Mom. I don’t appreciate trying to talk about this now, let’s just enjoy the day.’ When you ‘own’ the response by using your ‘I’ statements, you manage the conversation and you aren’t put on the defensive.
6. Plan your ‘time’ and ‘time’ your plan. Time to come, time to go, time to stay and time to visit. Get your events planned down to the details – what you are wearing, what you are bringing, when you will leave, who you will bring. The more planned the time is, the easier it is to manage. I’ve seen family members have huge disagreements because one wants to stay and visit some more and one wants to leave (i.e. get the hell out of dodge). Come up with your plan and your time management, communicate it to all, and stick to it. When you have a plan put in place and you’ve clearly communicated to all involved what day you visit, what time you will arrive, and when you will go, you eliminate arguments and avoid controversy.
7. Create a password. Have you ever been at a social gathering or family event and needed to communicate with your child, friend, spouse, etc. that you need to leave, or you don’t feel well or something is up and despite your attempts to get their attention, you can’t communicate with them? Or maybe your kids had a fight with their cousin and are too shy to interrupt your conversation so they sulk the rest of the day. These pent up emotions and worries can make the day miserable. If you come up with a word or gesture or something that is your ‘team’ password that you can use to get each other’s attention, you will be able to communicate with each other, no matter what is going on. It’s a simple management tool that empowers all.
8. Overlook the obvious. Holidays are often a time for pulling together disparate groups - when you visit new families, invite your new in-laws to dinner, offer an invitation to a neighbor to celebrate the holiday with your family, you are blending traditions and expectations. Growing up, we were always expected to dress in our holiday best for our formal holiday dinner. I’ve shown up for holiday dinners dressed in my best, only to be greeted by slippers and sweatshirts and big smiles. Our traditions were different from others – I decided then and there to embrace the day and let it go. Give yourself the gift of overlooking the obvious and letting your assumptions of how things should be go. ‘Different’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘bad’, it simply means different. Overlook the obvious and get on with the day.
9. Try to remember. The holidays can make you feel as if you ‘should be’ happy or joyous or feeling wonderful. Yet reality is always around the corner, and when you are feeling overwhelmed, depressed and just plain ole stuck, you can get to another place by focusing on another time. Pretend you are seven. Remember that feeling of peace, wonderment and joy? Might take some time to get there but give it a shot. Dig deep and pull into those feelings that held the holiday in a different place. Capture these feelings, they’ll pull you through and give you a sense of belonging and joy. We’ve all had a holiday that brought us smiles – this can bridge where you are now to where you were, it’s a powerful tool, just takes some effort.
10. Environmental controls. Control your environment vs. having it control you. Don’t leave the details up to chance, because, as they say ‘it’s all in the details’ – so maybe a formal restaurant isn’t an ideal option if Aunt Mary is bringing her new grandchildren and maybe offering a potluck isn’t going to work when your Mom brings a dish to serve 4 when you are hosting dinner for 20. And what about the cost of food and alcohol? Who does what, where it happens and who contributes what, are all details to hash out before the holiday.
Have a plan in place for the smokers (I’ve asked them to head outside to the deck), the drinkers (no, you can not offer the 15year old a beer) the place (we did it last year, it is your turn) and the time (we eat at 2:00, you can give the little ones a snack beforehand). Remember your concerns are yours, it’s not the job of others to create an environment that just suites your family and vice versa. Control what you can and let go of what you can’t.
I'll post ten more tips for fighting holiday stress in the next week.
2009 Copyright Kim Roman Corle, Taylor Consulting LLC
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