Do your holiday festivities look like this? Your home is perfectly outlined in crystal-clear globes of light, that shimmer flawlessly in the dark. Loved ones are guided toward your doorway by flickering luminaria. They embark upon the front steps, as the scent of pine and cinnamon waft through the air. The doorbell rings to a grand chime of “Deck The Halls”. You answer the door, cocktail in hand, your head swinging back in laughter, as though someone from far-off behind you has just said something hilarious. You greet your guests, genuinely, excitedly, with deep and long hugs, as though it’s been forever since you’ve seen them. Your children play excitedly, yet quietly in the family room. The space is set for a memorable, joyful and loving family holiday.
Or perhaps your holidays look more like this? Your husband blew a fuse three days ago trying to get the holiday lights on the house, so now half of your home is dark. But hey, the oven still works, so you’re going with it. Your parents pull up, and walk in unannounced after informing you they’ve been ringing the doorbell for 10 minutes. Dogs and children are jumping all over them, because they brought dessert and presents, and an assortment of other food items you said not to bring. Your sister and her husband, kids in tow, arrive shortly after. The rest of the gang arrives, including a nephew’s unexpected new girlfriend, who’s vegan and gluten-free. The screaming commences, along with the table setting, food preparing, cocktail mixing (thank God you and your hubs got a jump on that an hour before arrivals), political disagreements and sports arguing. Mom wants to know why you didn’t make Nana’s Noodle Strudel this year because “it’s tradition.” She adds snarkily, “Had I known you weren’t going to I’d have made it myself.” (Your Lizard-Brain tells you, “Bad daughter.”) You’re certain someone is smoking weed in your bathroom. Sister whispers, just loud enough for most to hear, “So did you decide to put Jason on Adderall after all? He seems a lot calmer.” (Lizard-Brain responds, “Bad mother.”) Then there’s your husband’s Uncle Marty who sits in the comfy chair, watching sports until dinner. He drinks glass after glass of bourbon all day, and indicates he needs more by holding the glass up in the air when it’s empty, eyes glued to whatever game is currently on the TV. When it’s time to leave he argues with your husband that he’s “fine to drive,” slurring his words all over God, the Universe, and your children. (Lizard-Brain yells a slew of insults “Bad host, bad wife, bad niece, bad mom, bad human).
If you fall within the first category, well WOW! And well, HOW? My experience has shown me that most of us fall within the second category, in one lizardy way or another. For many of us holidays prove stressful, chaotic, maybe even anxiety provoking. We feel let down, or betrayed. They remind us of childhood issues or traumas that have never been addressed. Many of us feel forced to spend time with loved ones that we don’t get along with, in order to spend time with the ones we love. We marry into families who have cultures we don’t understand or sometimes just have people who don’t accept us. Sometimes, in the most difficult situations, we have relatives we just can’t be around. In order to maintain our own boundary of self-preservation we have to abstain from family events altogether. In all of these situations we compromise. Why do we do it? In some cases we compromise for community. In other cases, it’s for peace. But in all cases we compromise for the love.
These are some examples: Every time you see your mom she criticizes your life choices, but you love talking with your dad and yours sibs. You discuss music and politics and new kinds of micro-brews. You go for the community; to hang out with your dad and sibs. Your brother and his wife have a 1-year-old and your sister-in-law corrects everything you do with the baby. It drives you crazy as she hovers over you, afraid you’re going to break your niece. However, you couldn’t imagine missing out on a holiday with her and your brother. You compromise, bite your tongue and keep the peace. Your dad begins each holiday with a shot and an eggnog at 10am, and passes out on the sofa by 3:30. You love him, but dealing with his demons during the holidays is too much for your tender heart to bear. You will see him after January 1, and spend the Friend-Li-Days with your peeps-from-other-mothers. This is your boundary for self-preservation.
Let’s talk about triggers. An example of a trigger is when you want to thump your sister-in-law on the forehead because she’s following you and your niece around the house, afraid she’s going to fall onto her heavily padded tushy. Those intense feelings that occur when a boundary is crossed and we become irritated—that is ANXIETY.……..WHOOO HOOOO we figured out the anxiety feeling! Do you know where you feel it in your body? An ache in your chest? A pit in your belly? That’s a blog for another day. What’s important is the following:
Circumstances—> Thoughts—> (trigger occurs here) Feelings—> Behaviors
- Circumstance- SIL follows you and neice around all day
- Thought- I am not a good Aunt and caretaker; SIL doesn’t trust me
- Feelings- Sadness, Inadequacy, Anger
- Behaviors- “Thumping SIL on the head”; arguing; oppositional behavior
It’s actually a positive thing to realize that your anxiety is being triggered. It allows you to develop and hone tools you need so you you can remain calm within your environment, and move on.This is so important because not only do you want to manage your anxiety while being around your loved ones, or other people who trigger you, but you want to have fun too. LOTS and LOT of FUN! We were not built for anxiety. We were built for JOY!
Here’s What You Do!
You and your mom have history regarding your occupation and your future. You’re at Thanksgiving dinner and she says, “I’m sure you don’t want to be working at a a grocery store for long. You need to be making more money.” Your thought is, “I like working at a grocery store; I can support myself just fine; this is not her business.” What would your feeling be? Anger, aggravation? Frustration? Perhaps sadness, because you want your mom to be proud and happy for you no matter what you do? There are 5 steps that you can do before you lash out in any negative way.
1) Control- Accept that you and you alone are in control of your reactions. You are not a victim of circumstances, but a powerful person, in control of his/ her own actions and reactions.
2) Reaction- Recognize that you’re having an emotional reaction to the situation. The sooner you realize you’re being triggered the sooner you’ll be able to determine the feelings you’re having about it.
3) Emotion- Determine what triggered your emotion, particularly if it is fear, anger or sadness triggered by your loved one. This will help you to figure out what it is you need to handle the situation.
4) Feeling- This is a hard one for some people to wrap their head around, but YES! we get to choose the emotions we want to feel. If you’re choosing “Joyful” and your loved one is persisting with a conversation that is the opposite of that feeling, a brief response of “that’s not what I’m choosing to talk about during the holidays,” should get the message across. If it doesn’t you may need to put up more specific emotional boundaries.
5) Freedom- Digging deep into your emotional state. Relax and take a deep breath: Exhale and release all of the negative energy that has entered your body. Repeat this several times as needed; Drop your attention from your mind into your heart-really feel this and allow it to center your body; Focus your breath on the key feeling that you chose to feel. For example: Inhale Joyful, Exhale Peace. I use this daily to center myself and remind me that I am in control of how I want to feel.
This may take a little preparation before an event, but not much more than it did to read this blog. Do it once and you can use it on the fly, over and over again. Anxiety and stress are hard. Holidays should be fun!! Also, see my link to Dysfunctional Family Bingo. We all have ‘em. We may as well enjoy ‘em!
May all of your holidays be loving and anxiety free! Love Elizabeth