The pull towards intimacy with family (whether your family is of the chosen or the biological variety) can feel like getting stuck in a strong current. You might choose to opt out of "family time" the rest of the year, but come Thanksgiving and Christmas seem to beg coming together with loved ones. Whether you like them or not.
There's a vast range of ways people handle the sometimes awkward intimacy of the holidays. Eating a lot, drinking alcohol and watching football are common choices for relaxing and fun. But people are often totally unprepared for the inevitable emotions that rise to the surface with all of that time spent together.
Without a good "recipe" for dealing with what emotions or conflicts comes up, we can find ourselves relying on coping mechanisms — resorting to eating more, drinking more, checking out more. Or sometimes, the discussions around the dinner table get a little too heated, leading to outbursts that can inflict long-term damage.
Here is a recipe for you to use to cook up a brand-new way of relating to those new and dear to you…And remember: gather your tools and ingredients ahead of time!
1. Learning to say what is unarguable.
You might enjoy those debates about politics and religion, but they won't lead to personal connection. There is a short list of unarguable topics: your physical state (i.e. headache, tight stomach, heavy chest); your emotions (mad, sad, happy, scared); what you want or don't want. Saying what is unarguable will connect you to your inner experience while you connect to those around you.
2. Knowing when you're triggered — and taking care of it!
We all react when something unexpected happens. Say the turkey is still frozen, your guests are late, you're stuck in traffic or your little brother shows up with a floozy girlfriend. When the unexpected happens, our body can take over by getting activated (or immobilized) by stress.
So watch for the signals that you're triggered: your pulse has increased, your muscles feel tight, your blood pressure is up. This is the danger zone, when you're most likely to do or say something that you'll regret later (the outburst, the cream-puffs, the whole bottle of wine).
What we need is to feel soothed and relaxed. Breathe, move, take a walk, sing a song, go into the bathroom and sit there until your brain is back to normal. These simple relaxation methods will help give you time to process, and steer you away from leaning on ways to check out. Food, alcohol, cigarettes, TV and the internet might be tempting — but they won't help you feel better.
Give yourself (and those around you) permission to say what you want and don't want. Conflicts often happen because we think it's better to not be direct. This holiday season, commit to being direct.
1. A page full of intentions
Take a few minutes to write out what you really want to get out of your holiday time with friends and family. Do you want connection? To play? To relax? To read? To carve out alone time? It's useful not only to be clear and direct with others about what you want, but also to be clear with yourself.
2. Cues to shift your focus
Instead of the tried-and-true activity of sitting around eating and watching TV, how about having a stack of 3x5 cards to carry with you that remind you of some productive ideas? Some ideas include:
-BREATHE: Do so often and deeply. You'll remember you have a body.
-LAUGH MORE: Your favorite YouTube videos, fun memories, a great game of charades, silly questions in a bag, paper mustaches, can help people move out of their normal patterns of being together.
-MOVE: Your body will thank you.
-GO OUTSIDE: It will clear your head.
-PLAY: Whether it's a game of jacks or gin rummy, let yourself engage in a new way.
You can't bring along too much appreciation. You can add appreciation to enhance any moment. Lag in the conversation? Appreciate. Someone's getting testy? Appreciate. You can appreciate the weather, the food, the décor, the effort it took for someone to drive to the gathering. It doesn't matter what you appreciate; this ingredient is a flavor-enhancer for the whole event.
ON THE DAY OF THE EVENT…
1. Assemble your ingredients.
2. Take a few breaths as you read through your intentions and test your skills for sharpness.
3. Read through your 3x5 cards to be sure you're ready.
4. And now — make this recipe your own by adding your personal spices and flavorings.