The holiday season is here!
If you believe the saccharine parade of commercials and made-for-TV holiday specials rolling by every December, this is a time of happy crowds of loved-ones, sharing expensive, sparkly-wrapped gifts, fond memories, and encouraging, loving comments, over big, marshmallow-topped mugs of hot cocoa, in front of a stocking-lined fireplace, in a huge, spotless, suburban family home.
I'm sure this is how the holidays are for some--surrounded by love, abundance, harmony, and joy--and that's wonderful!
I don't want to be a huge Grinch about it but I can't ignore the fact that it's nothing at all like that for a lot of people. Those too-perfect expectations can leave many feeling lonely, stressed out, or just not-good-enough.
Even for those who are fortunate enough to be with loved-ones over the holidays, gatherings can sometimes be just as much about tension, anger, and pointless arguments as they are about celebration.
This can be true with close friends and family. Because you’ve just got so much history! In-laws and coworkers can be extra difficult to deal with too, because they often aren't people you would have chosen to share your life with. Either way, it's easy to feel triggered by some habit or comment that wouldn’t bother you much at all, coming from a stranger. Most people have a friend or family member who drives them a little crazy sometimes. To make matters worse, we often end up feeling frustrated with ourselves for getting upset--once again--with the same old behavior.
So why is it so easy to get pulled into arguments
we later regret?!?
When we experience anger, alarm, or a potential threat, our nervous system goes into the stress-induced, sympathetic state (often called “fight or flight”)--our body's way of trying to prepare us to defend ourselves against a perceived risk.
It pumps our body full of adrenalin and other stress hormones, while shutting down systems that aren’t essential to our immediate survival.
We’re ready for aggression, not diplomacy.
And the problem is, this ancient part of our brain doesn’t know if we’re being chased by a predator or baited by a drunk uncle.
So, just in time for the holidays, I’d like to offer these three steps to stay calm and out of the drama this holiday season:
Take a breath.
Take a step.
Take a Break.
One - Take a Breath:
Even just one calm, deep breath can do wonders when faced with a triggering situation. Three or four is even better! Deep breathing helps your nervous system shift from the sympathetic, “Fight or Flight,” state, back into the more easy-going, parasympathetic state, which takes over when you’re feeling safe and secure.
When you’re feeling relaxed instead of geared up for a fight, your body has the energy and attention needed to do things like healing, digesting, and replenishing your immune system.
But this more relaxed state also helps you maintain a calmer, more logical, and thoughtful perspective in stressful situations--like when someone at your holiday gathering tries to start some drama by bringing up a super controversial political, personal, or family issue.
Taking a few deep breaths is one of the quickest and easiest ways to bring yourself back into this more balanced, parasympathetic, state of mind and body. It helps you to respond with diplomacy and logic instead of reacting in anger and joining the fractious fray.
Two - Take a Step:
Once you’ve taken a nice deep breath or two, and are feeling more balanced and calm, try taking a step back from the strong emotions you might be feeling.
It’s time to get philosophical.
This step back will be different depending on the situation. If it’s an old and dysfunctional pattern coming up for the hundredth time, stepping back could mean choosing not to play your role in the family drama this time. Remind yourself that you’re an adult now and no longer dependent on pleasing your family. Keeping in mind that you don’t need to explain or justify yourself to anyone.
It also works if the drama-bait at your holiday gathering is political.
When the argument is pointless, illogical, and emotion-based, there’s absolutely no reason to let yourself get pulled into it.
It won’t help you save the world; it will only stress you out and mess up your digestion.
Either way, remember this: If someone frequently attempts to ensnare you in their drama, it’s their issue, not yours. You don’t have to play along!
Three – Take a Break
If someone is trying to draw you in, and won’t respect the fact that you don’t want to engage, remove yourself from the situation. Go outside or to another room for some deep breathing. Go help out in the kitchen. Or even go home. Whatever works for you!
Remove yourself from the negative situation until you feel calmer.
And go easy on yourself--even if you do end up losing your temper or shutting down over some issue you thought you’d dealt with and overcome years ago! Social dynamics are complex and powerful. It's totally normal to get pulled into the drama sometimes, even if you had every intention of staying out of it. Remember, you’re doing the best you can!✪
I'd love to hear your questions, comments, and ideas for further posts. My mission is to help each highly sensitive and empathic person wake up to their power, brilliance, and authentic path. Click here to learn about intuitive coaching and please share this article on social media if you think you might know other Empaths and HSPs who could benefit.