Have you ever felt the holidays are a stressful time? Does being around your family make matters even worse?
Being around a family can induce stress and bring up things from the past that are painful. These past upsets, trauma and events can build up over time and unleash themselves at a moments notice. For example, I have three beautiful daughters and four granddaughters. They are the gift and joy of my life but it’s not always easy. Sometimes we do not see eye to eye or heart to heart.
Not long ago, we celebrated the wedding of my middle daughter, Ashley. The moment was a cause for love, yet it provoked a lot of difficult feelings for my other two daughters and my ex-wife. Their mom and I went through a difficult divorce and it was very hard for the girls. Those past moments of pain, anger and disappointment were also guests at Ashley’s wedding and nearly erupted into a scene in the midst of it all.
My ex was unfriendly to the guests and down right angry toward me. My youngest daughter did not speak to me for a few months because of the pain it invoked in her. When we live in the past, stress builds up like a ticking time bomb.
Before getting together with family choose how you want to show up. You have a choice to give others a lot of space, be forgiving, and mindful of what they are experiencing or you can be unforgiving, intolerant and annoyed.
Here are 3 tips to head off stress and avoid destructive or painful situations at family gatherings during the holidays.
First and foremost, be patient with yourself. If you are feeling upset or ready to explode take a few breaths. Walk away or go outdoors. Do not act upon your thoughts or feelings.
Patience begins with allowing your own feelings to be felt and let go. For example, at Ashley’s wedding, when witnessing the behavior of my ex-wife, I was tempted to say something. Instead, I chose to walk away, give my feelings space to be felt but not acted upon.
When I say this, I am referring to not reacting to someone’s upset or projection of anger upon you. Doing this activates a neutral territory or what I call a safe zone. This zone allows you and others to come into a loving, compassionate place where they know they will not be attacked nor unheard. It’s not about agreeing with what others are saying, it’s about allowing everyone to share their thoughts and feelings.
Creating space, heads off stress before it happens, and most importantly, it releases the stress that has built up over time. It is also where we can allow forgiveness to occur.
Be in forgiveness. Not just for what somebody else did or what you may have done but of the fact that something went wrong in the first place. When you are confronted with situations that require forgiveness think of them as an opportunity to undo stress. Any chance to forgive yourself is a chance to let go of stress before it blows up in your face. I always began by forgiving myself for being part of an unfortunate situation. It was an error not a crime. There is no need to carry guilt and punishment for anything that has happened.
Recently, my family was having a beautiful sunset dinner near my home in Santa Barbara when I innocently said something that triggered a negative response in my older sister. She blew up in public. I took responsibility. I forgave myself. I forgave her. It was all an error in judgement.
If we don’t forgive the person and the event and let it go, it will have a hold over us. Do you want to let somebody like your brother, uncle or a mother have power over your happiness? Of course not. So practice radical forgiveness. Nothing relieves stress more than forgiveness. The safe zone is also a space for allowing forgiveness to occur.
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Be rigorously mindful of thoughts, words and deeds. Mindfulness begins with intently listening to others. Often times it reveals their own pain and suffering.
When we are listening and we get triggered by a word or a look, we are actually listening to our own thoughts and emotions, as opposed to what the person is sharing. We are preparing to project our thoughts of pain, suffering, opinion and indignation back on to the person. This just precipitates more stress.
The idea of rigorous mindfulness is about being mindful of the need to perceive yourself as being unfairly treated. In other words, past events act out and take over your thoughts and actions when you become the victim of what the other person is saying. You may feel as if they are attacking you and the need to defend yourself. And, you should defend yourself if they are physically attacking you. However, most often the person doing the attacking and is doing so verbally, is in deep pain and in need of compassion.
Mindful listening can help to avoid stressful situations by heading stress off at the pass. When you attack, you only attack yourself and bring harm to your peace of mind.
During the holidays and at any time, be mindful, forgiving and patient. When you do these three things, you can free yourself once and for all, of what otherwise could be a nightmare of a holiday season.
Have a happy stress free holiday season!
Blessings and Godspeed,