The holiday season brings to mind scenes of feasts, festivities, singing and celebrating. Imagine rituals and relatives, the peaceful glow of candles in the windows of a cozy home, capped with snow under twinkling stars. You get the picture.
While some of us are blessed with a fun and festive holiday season, many of us or not. Some of us dread the holidays. Challenging relationship dynamics can spark a big blow up, or at a minimum grind on our nerves in a way that makes us feel neither merry nor bright. Gatherings with family, co-workers, or neighbors who have the ability to push our buttons can put a real damper on the holidays.
What’s a self-aware, big-hearted, peace-loving person to do?
I sat down, coach-to-coach, with Lael Petersen, Yoga Health Coach and Licensed Clinical Social Worker to get some TIPS on how to navigate relationship challenges so that you can enjoy the season and stay true to yourself. Read our informative conversation below.
Kirstin: Understanding ourselves in the context of our relationships is key to self-care. I’ve learned this in my own personal growth and in the lives of the women I coach. I know that we have the power to make changes in our relationships that support our own well-being. Do you see this in your work as a coach and therapist?
Lael: Absolutely. In my coaching group, we’ve gotten to observe big relationship breakthroughs. Women who are committed to personal growth and self-care often find that they need to renegotiate the terms of their relationships so they can prioritize themselves. As a therapist, relationships are a central concern to many of my clients as well.
Kirstin: With the holidays upon us, and the potential for relationship challenges looms large. What do we need to understand that will help us show up more fully to events and festivities with grace and ease?
Lael: We need to understand fear. Fear makes things feel larger and scarier than they are. Fear shuts down the part of our brains that are responsible for making plans and decisions. When fear is activated, we don’t think clearly and can’t come up with options. When fear is in control, we tend to stay stuck in old patterns, and we are stuck repeating the same tensions, arguments, and hurt feelings year after year.
Kirstin: Yoga Health Coaches learn a lot about breaking old habits and patterns. What is the first thing you would tell one of your coaching clients if she was feeling the fear of a holiday-induced relationship meltdown?
Lael: Permission. You have the right to have a happy holiday. You have permission to NOT spend time with people who are challenging. You have permission to CHANGE how you spend time with the person. You have CONTROL over how you interact with the people around you.
Kirstin: Permission to put yourself first is a big growth area for a lot of us. Why is this so challenging?
Lael: Permission brings up our beliefs about what good a person, mother, or daughter would do or not do. If there is tension between who you really are, and who you believe you are supposed to be, it feels uncomfortable. It can be fear-provoking. You might feel the anxiety rising right now just talking about doing things differently.
Kirstin: Yes! I can feel a little edginess when I think about how it would feel to give myself permission to do things differently. I have pretty good relationships with most of my family, but I don’t always feel like I can totally be myself with them. What do you suggest?
Lael: I have three tips for you. First, identify your intention for the season, and keep it top of mind from now until the new year. If your intention is to make the holidays rich in experiences rather than expensive in terms of gifts, fancy dinners, travel, etc., keep that in mind when planning events and accepting or declining invitations.
Kirstin: Focusing on an intention is so important, but easy to lose track of in the frenzy of holidays. What do you suggest?
Lael: You have to keep reminding yourself! Write your intention on a post-it note and place it where you’ll see it – your bathroom mirror, the refrigerator, the dashboard of your car – so you’ll be reminded. Another way is to choose a piece of jewelry that you designate as your “intention memento.” When it catches your eye, or you feel it on your skin, take that as a cue to check in with yourself and ask if you are staying true to your intention or need to make some changes to your plans.
Kirstin: That first tip was kind of a twofer. Set an intention. Then find ways to remind yourself and check in to be sure you are making choices that align with your desires and needs. What are your other two tips?
Lael: The other two tips are about planning ahead to set yourself up for success. Use your brain in a calm state to prepare and rehearse a few one-liners that will help you change the energy and the subject when needed. For example, “Oh Mom, Let’s not go there today. Let’s just enjoy the holiday.” A one-liner like that one will allow you to change the subject without too much drama.
The other part of planning ahead is to put support in place ahead of time. Make a plan with your partner, favorite cousin, or compassionate co-worker who can provide support, distractions, or help you ease out of an uncomfortable conversation if needed.
Kirstin: Perfect. Anything else before we wrap this up?
Lael: Don’t forget to celebrate your success with a reward that will reinforce your intentions and habits for navigating relationship challenges. I don’t mean reward yourself with a cookie and a tall glass of eggnog. Text your trusted support person. Tell yourself, “good job!” and smile at your wins. You’re doing great work to create a more merry holiday, and setting the stage for healthier relationships all year long.
Let’s Review the Steps for Calm and Happy Holidays
- Understand the Role of Fear. Fear is your inner voice alerting you to possible “danger,” such as the tension between family members or the too-high expectations you feel at work. Thank your fear for the information, and then take a couple deep breaths. Once you’re calm, make a plan for how you will respond to the challenges fear helped you identify.
- Set an Intention. Take 30 minutes to journal about what you want to do, have, and feel this holiday season. Then write about why this is important to you. Finally, choose a word or short phrase that will remind you of this intention. Post it on your bathroom mirror so you can be reminded of it every day.
- Plan Your One-Liners. Think about the likely interactions that may ruffle your feathers, and pick one or two one-liners that you can use when needed. It’s not crazy to practice this with your spouse or a friend so they come out naturally, even when you’re a little flustered.
- Get Support From Trusted Friends and Family. Grab chai with a friend and talk about your intention, your one-liners, and ask for support. Make a plan to text your friend when you are feeling stressed, or for her to check in on you each week.
- Give Yourself Permission to Have a Happy Holiday. ‘Nuff said. You deserve to be as happy as anyone else.
My conversation with Lael reminded me of this quote: “Smile, breathe, and go slowly.”
Perhaps these words from Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh will be a starting point for your planning and intention setting. I hope you’ll use the tips Lael shared to give yourself permission to be true to yourself regardless of the relationship dynamics you’ll encounter this season. With some pre-planning and support, you can navigate relationship challenges with a sense of ease.
How will you create the holiday you truly want this year? Please tell me of your trials and successes in the comment section below. I am here for you!