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5 Ways To Optimize Mental Wellness During Stressful Family Gatherings,   With Colene Elridge, M.B.A.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Colene Elridge, a results-oriented success coach, speaker, author and writer with more than 15 years of experience in human resources, training, government and entrepreneurship. The Owner of Be More Consulting, she’s known as Coach Colene and is passionate about two things: creating better work and creating better lives. Elridge […]


I had the pleasure of interviewing Colene Elridge, a results-oriented success coach, speaker, author and writer with more than 15 years of experience in human resources, training, government and entrepreneurship. The Owner of Be More Consulting, she’s known as Coach Colene and is passionate about two things: creating better work and creating better lives. Elridge trains groups and businesses around the world and is known for bringing realness and a sense of humor to everything she does.


Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! What is your backstory?

I’m a life / success coach, author and speaker from Kentucky. I love helping people find success in work and life by stepping into their own leadership. My background is in HR, and I love the people side of organizations. I just published my first book, Monday Morning Pep Talks: Inspiration to Make Your Week Thrive!

With the holiday season almost over, many people have been visiting and connecting with relatives. While family is important, some of them can be incredibly challenging. How would you define the difference between a difficult dynamic and one that’s unhealthy?

All families have their own stories and issues. It’s true for any relationship dynamic, but families are unique because they have known you longer, and there tends to be different sets of expectations. 

Difficult family relationships are sometimes based on different personalities, values and beliefs, yet they can still be healthy and loving overall. 

Relationships cross into unhealthy territory when there is a lack of boundaries, or a lack of respect for boundaries. Let’s say you’re recently divorced, and you ask your family to respect your decision and not to discuss it. Yet, they continue to bring it up at dinner in a judgmental way. That’s not just difficult, that’s unhealthy. Any relationship without healthy boundaries is one that’s not going to last.

Families have a large part to play in our overall mental health. While some members may be champions for wellness, others may trip triggers. What advice would you give about engaging both types of relatives?

My family went through something like this. My brother decided to adopt a new healthy lifestyle that included becoming vegan. In a family that’s rooted in African-American and Southern culture, it was a huge adjustment. The best thing my brother started doing to make things easier for everyone was to bring his own food. I think everyone was nervous about what his new eating habits would mean for everyone else. However, he showed us that he wasn’t judging us, just doing something different for himself.

Showing up with what you need so you’re taken care of is a great step in the right direction. Offer to make a dish for the whole family that fits with your needs. If bringing your own food would cause more drama, I also suggest pre-deciding. Meaning, before you show up, decide on what you’re going to eat. You don’t have to eat the same amount as everyone else. Decide beforehand how you want to navigate your situation, then stick with it!

We often hear about “toxic relationships.” Do you believe there is a difference between a toxic family and an unhealthy one? If so, how would you advise someone to handle a toxic family member?

Toxic is an extreme representation of unhealthy. I don’t really suggest either, but the health of all our relationships can use a boost from time to time. If a family is toxic, there’s usually some kind of abuse (emotional, physical, etc.). There’re also usually some signs of manipulation; If you don’t do X there’s a big load of guilt laid on you, etc. If someone is toxic, take whatever steps you can to remove them from your life. If that’s not an option — note: it’s always an option — limit your time with them. Don’t engage with them. If they’re toxic, you probably know their traps, so do what you can to avoid them.

Can you share about a time where you helped someone overcome a challenging family member?

My husband’s family is very large. His mom is one of 18 children, and family events can be stressful just because of the sheer number of people involved. Before every trip to visit, we usually develop a game-plan on how we’re going to navigate touchy situations that we already know about. We even have a secret code to signal when we need the other to come help out. It’s nice to have the support, but what’s most important is having a plan.

I also tend to extend a lot of grace to people.

 The truth is: everyone is walking their own journey and may be going through things that we have no idea about.

 So, sometimes, with particularly challenging family members, I often ask what their life must be like for them to behave this way. It kind of gives me a bit more compassion for them instead of taking it personally.

Managing mental health in high stress situations is challenging and although gatherings are only a few times a year, they can make a major impact on overall wellness. What 5 strategies do you suggest using to maintain mental health when faced with an unhealthy family dynamic?

  1. Know what you need. It’s important to get really clear with yourself about what you need during this time of year. If you can only do an hour with family, do the hour and leave. But if you don’t know what you need, it makes it harder to have a game plan.
  2. Imagine you’re in a bubble. Sometimes, I like to play this game where I pretend I’m in a giant bubble when I’m around people who are challenging. It becomes almost fun to think about having the protection of the bubble as a shield from their negative energy. Plus, it provides a visual representation for your of protection.
  3. Communicate your needs. There’s is absolutely nothing wrong with sending a text or email to your family beforehand to let them know what you may need. Come from a place of compassion and not blame. But, be very clear about what you need from them.
  4. Have something to look forward to. If spending time with your family is stressful, make some plans for something that nourishes you afterwards. Meet up with friends. Plan a great hot shower. Watch your favorite Netflix series. Go to a yoga class. Whatever you need. Having something to look forward to helps create excitement for making it through your family time.
  5. Go to therapy. I’m not a therapist, but I LOVE therapy. I don’t know a single person who couldn’t benefit from going to a therapist. There’s no shame in having someone talk you through some issues you may have. Family dynamics are tricky and having someone to better support you through them is a win/win. There are so many new and innovative therapy options, including online. So, there is something for everyone.

What advice would you give to family members who are allies of someone struggling with mental illness at these gatherings? How can they support strong mental health without causing friction with other members of the family?

If you are a family member of someone who struggles with mental illness, my best advice is to ask them how you can best support them. Sometimes, it’s hard to verbalize it, but it’s always a good start to ask. If they don’t know, the best thing you can do is to show compassion and love. Don’t try to make them do things if they don’t feel like it. Let them know that they are loved and supported.

What is your favorite mental health quote? Why do you find it so impactful?

“It’s so common it could be anyone. The trouble is no one wants to talk about it, and that makes everything worse.” Ruby Wax

I love this quote because there is still such a strong stigma when we think about mental health. People, especially in some marginalized communities, still think that mental health can be “fixed” with nothing more than prayer. Now, I love Jesus, but I also know that there’s a place for mental health treatments in the equation as well!

If you could inspire a movement or a change in mental wellness, what would it be? How can people support you in this mission?

This topic hits really close to home for me. My father died from suicide from his own struggles with depression. I know the impact that has on families… I’ve lived it! Yet, people are still so embarrassed to say they need help, or speak up, or get the resources they need because they don’t want to appear weak. It’s a national crisis, and I think awareness is key. Not just for those suffering, but for those who love those that are suffering. Loved ones don’t always know what to say to those suffering, so they don’t say anything at all. We need to learn how to do better. I had a chance to be a part of a great video recently that talked about mental health: https://youtu.be/fV1CQaTTvzE

What is the best way for people to connect with you on social media?

Instagram is my favorite. You can find me there @Coach_Colene or on Facebook Coach Colene. Plus, I send out a weekly email called Monday Morning Pep Talks. It’s a little inspiration to make your week thrive. You can sign up here to receive it: www.MondayMorningPepTalks.com

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