23 November 2017

Surviving the Holidays

Barbara Ferullo

Most people love holiday time, but for many – too many- it’s also a time of worry, anxiety, stress, and inner turmoil.  Enter, the visit with the family.

How do we get through this without compromising ourselves too much, yet, at the same time, without alienating anyone?  There are some guidelines that can help you negotiate some of the rapids that you might encounter.

In some deep part of yourself, you know there’s no quick fix.  It took a while for this situation to build up, although it needn’t take as long to sort it through.  Working with someone you trust, or a therapist, can help you do that.  In the meantime, a few little tweaks here and there might help along the way.  They’re divided between 2) generally stressful situations, and b) people-related situations.  We’ll start tips to deal with the general situations, first.

Tips to Deal With General Stressful Situations

  1. Bring a friend, if possible.
  2. Bring your computer.
  3. If there’s a dog, walk him.
  4. If there isn’t a dog, go for a walk, anyway.  Invite someone along you think will be enjoyable, if you like.
  5. Get involved in a dinner activity (if it’s a safe situation to do so); set the table; bring out the appetizers; make sure everyone has a beverage; bring one over to an elder who has difficulty getting around; play the good host/hostess.
  6. Studies show that distracting yourself can help calm down the amygdala, that part of the brain that houses anxiety, fear and anger. So do something to distract yourself that you can get into, eg, watch the game or play a video game with others, bring your knitting/crewel work, etc.
  7. Here, too, studies show that doing something physical can help calm our body down, and bring us back into the present, without the burdens of the past.  You don’t think one of the Celtics is wondering during a game, whether he left the stove on, do you?  Nope.  Not doable.  Nor is Taylor Swift worrying about the stove, either, while she’s recording.  Can’t be done.  Thankfully, it’s how our body/brain works, so use it to your advantage. So go do something physical that you can get into, eg, go for a walk/jog, throw around a ball/frisbee, shoot hoops, etc. You get the idea.
  8. Bring a board game.
  9. If being at a a gathering for the whole time is too stressful, just go for part of it, dessert, for example.  You might want to bring something, if you think it will deflect criticism.

Tips to Deal With Stressful People-Related Situations (The Big Bug-A-Boo)

  1. Avoid, at all costs, having a one-to-one conversation with someone you know isn’t good for you.  I don’t mean annoying Uncle George, who laughs at his own jokes.  We all have one (or two, or three) of those.  I mean the person who is toxic for you, who intentionally or unintentionally, hurts you repeatedly.  They’re often someone who’s been close or important to you, sometimes a parent, or an “ex”, for example.  Find a “safe”, topic you both can talk about, eg, a recipe, new car, movie, or sports team.  Politely find an excuse to leave (“I see cousin John’s here – I want to say ‘hi’ to him”.)  Leave it on a good note.  If the person persists, change the subject, make your polite excuse, and go talk to someone else.
  2. Plan some strategies in advance.  If you’re with someone whom you know is a trouble-maker,  be socially appropriate, but somewhat distant, cool.
  3. Avoid topics that are sensitive – with anyone.  If you just can’t resist, make yourself scarce until your anger – and your system – calm down.  But lie low.
  4. Some of the General Tips, above, are also useful  Keeping busy being helpful can often deflect difficult conversations.

Do Some Relaxation Exercises.  Your favorites;  walking/jogging, deep breathing, meditating, listening to music, etc.  Again, this is something you should have in your toolbox at the ready.  Do some thinking in advance.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list, and not all situations can be covered in a blog.  But they’re ideas that can get your juices flowing, and help you generate some ideas of your own, some of which will be even better, and more tailored to your situation.

Try a little experimenting, and use your creativity and ingenuity.  It takes awhile, but you can keep fine-tuning things each time as you go along.  Give yourself the chance you deserve.