How to Stay Calm When Things Go From Festive to Frustrating
The holidays are upon us. And along with family gatherings, gifts, and cheerful lights in the dark of winter, the season brings mixed feelings for many people.
For those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic, it may be the first set of holidays with an empty place at the table and in the heart. And despite our holiday expectations — or perhaps because of them — the holidays can be stressful.
Whether it is figuring out how to fit holiday gifts into our budget, or planning a big meal with all the trimmings, we often put pressure on ourselves to make the time special. Those expectations can collide with reality when we find ourselves face-to-face with relatives we may not have seen in a while. Gather a large group of relatives from multiple generations together in a confined space, then throw in different preferences, perspectives, and viewpoints, and you may have a recipe for disagreements, outbursts, and hurt feelings.
We want this precious time together with our loved ones to be filled with happy times and good memories, not “Oy vey!” moments and regrets. While we can’t control what others say and do, we can control how we respond by caring for ourselves through mindfulness.
Mindfulness provides us with an opportunity to be our best selves more often. So, as you gather with friends and family this holiday season, keep these practices handy in case you need one or more in moments like these:
Problem: You’re cooking a huge holiday meal and you don’t have as much support as you’d like. (Or maybe you have too many cooks in the kitchen!)
Mindful Solution: Slice and dice mindfully. Measure and pour mindfully. Pay mindful attention to what you’re doing rather than focusing on any frustration you may feel.
Problem: People are talking politics and things start to get heated.
Mindful Solution: Don’t engage with the drama. Instead, practice Loving Kindness. Try repeating an internal Loving Kindness mantra such as: “May you be safe. May you be healthy. May you live with ease.” Use “we” if you’d like to include some Loving Kindness for yourself.
Problem: You are attending a family gathering that you know will include someone with whom you have unresolved issues.
Mindful Solution: Make a playlist of songs that fill you with good feelings and listen to it on the way to the gathering. Before you go in, take a few minutes and practice the Receiving-Sending meditation. Breathe in the pain; breathe out goodwill. Breathe in the chaos; breathe out peace.
Problem: You feel overwhelmed by everything that has to be done to make the holidays “just right.”
Mindful Solution: Get grounded. Use a “Here-and-Now Stone” or simply ground yourself in your body by putting your attention on the soles of your feet. Focus your energy downward, keep your attention there, and breathe slowly and deeply.
In the past I’ve shared some of common acronyms for mindfulness practices, such as S.T.O.P. developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn and R.A.I.N. created by Michele McDonald. This year, consider my addition to the mindfulness lexicon and remember to S.N.A.P. when holiday stress arises:
S: Soothing Touch — When you feel stress, where does it show up in your body? Place your hands over that area. It might be your chest, belly, hugging your upper arms, or cradling your face. Try different locations and see which feels most soothing. This supportive touch will allow oxytocin and endorphins to help calm your nervous system.
N: Name the Emotion — Name what you are feeling in the moment. Is it worry? Sadness? Anger? Loneliness? Naming what you feel helps calm the stress response, and gives you time to locate it in your body and soften around it.
A: Act — It’s time to use a tool to help yourself feel better. Asking the ultimate Mindful Self-Compassion question — “What do I need right now?” — is the best place to start. Then do what can reasonably be done with what you’ve got in the moment.
P: Praise — Thank your practice for helping you manage the stress! Thank yourself for showing up day after day, trying to do your best. Thank the universe, or your spirit of choice, for giving you the strength and courage to keep on keeping on.
For any problem that arises over the holidays, mindfulness can help you keep calm, avoid drama, and actually enjoy yourself. May your holidays be filled with joy, peace, and blessings!
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