Trying to not just survive, but thrive during the holidays can be challenging. While there are no magic wands to fix this, some of the following suggestions may ease the way to a more fun, less Grinch-like holiday.
1. Set reasonable expectations: Hallmark holidays rarely exist outside the imagination of greeting card writers, so try not to set yourself up to expect perfection. Aim instead for pretty darn good or even good enough. Some of the most memorable holiday times are actually the flubs and flops anyway – like the time the tree fell over with all the decorations on it (Christmas of '91), or when Josh caught the tablecloth on fire trying to light the menorah (Hanukkah '98). Laughter adds seasoning to our experiences, and perfection usually doesn't make for great comedy.
2. Stay in the moment: Yes, of course planning ahead is a good thing. Learning from past mistakes (let's not try knitting everyone's presents again...) is important, but if our heads are wrapped around all we have yet to do or fretting about past goof-ups while we're decorating this year's cookies or preparing that special Kwanza dish, we will be more likely to mess up what we are doing, or not find the space within ourselves to fully enjoy the activity. Our full presence with each other is the best gift.
3. Breathe, but don't hyperventilate: Practice taking your emotional temperature. For example, ask yourself how agitated, stressed, angry or anxious you feel on a scale of 0 to 10 with 10 being a major meltdown. If you are at a 5 or above, take five for yourself. Step away and give yourself five minutes to breathe. Counting your breaths to 10 several times is an easy way to do this. As you slow your breathing down, you will slow down your mind and body, too. Hyperventilation, on the other hand, can lead to passing out, which is generally not a good outcome.
4. Connection, not competition: If the real point of holidays (besides the food) is connecting with others, then competing to be the best kugel-maker, making better stuffing than your mother-in-law, or winning the touch football game at all costs may not be the best way to foster those connections.
5. Step away from emotional fires: Emotions are normal and we need them. Just like gasoline fuels our cars, feelings fuel relationships. However, if there's a fire, you probably don't want to pour gasoline on it – or walk toward it with a leaky gas can. In the same way, if feelings are heating up (see taking emotional temperature), let's set down the fuel, step away from the fire and cool off. You probably know your hot buttons by now. Take a bathroom break. And breathe.
6. Timing is everything: It's generally better to express rather than stuff your feelings deep inside. However, it is also important to choose the best time, place, and method for expressing those feelings. Once you find that time, be really clear about what you are feeling and needing from the other person. When the right moment comes, try to use "I" statements: "I felt hurt when you said the gravy was lumpy" or "I don't like it when you interrupt me when I'm telling a story." Specifics help the other person to know what they may need to change. And, watch out for the curse words "always" and "never."
7. SOS: "Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help and brave enough to ask for it." I don't know who said it, but I like it! If your thoughts immediately go to "I don't want to be a bother, burden, etc.," ask yourself how you usually feel when someone asks for your help. Give the gift of feeling needed.
All of the above are suggestions, not a list of rules. Select those that speak to you and give them a try this holiday season, but don't stress about following them all. Use what's helpful and fits your situation. Most important of all: Have a happy, healthy holiday!
Kate Adamek, LCSW, is the group facilitator for Ornish Lifestyle Medicine, based at the Beebe Health Campus - Rehoboth Beach. Beebe Healthcare is proud to be the only provider of Ornish Lifestyle Medicine in Delaware. The Ornish program is nationally recognized through the results of more than 35 years of peer-reviewed, published research for preventing, stopping and even reversing the progression of heart disease. For more information, go to www.beebehealthcare.org/ornish.
To find out how Beebe Healthcare is creating the next generation of care for the community, go to www.nextgenerationofcare.org.