Category Archives for "holiday stress"

Dancing With Negative Relatives

On Thursday many of us will gather around a food-laden table with family and friends, presumably to celebrate those things in our life for which we are thankful.

If you are envisioning this with dread because one or more relatives or friends ruin it for you every year, then read on. There are some things you can do about it.

I am no stranger to annoying relatives. I have some and I have been one and probably still am. My siblings could regale you with tales of Thanksgivings past when I tried to control everything including seating arrangements lighting, timing and injecting a “no TV during dinner rule.” Can you say “controlling?”  It wasn’t even my house!

My family of origin-if this photo could talk!

Of course the flip side of that was how annoying they were when they resisted my brilliant suggestions.  Some of them teased, others got mean and the worst were those who merely dismissed me.  They ruined the holiday for me!

Ah, excuse me.  Who ruined it?  Mirror, mirror on the wall…

What follows are a few things I’ve learned from both sides of this equation:

You get what you expect. If you are already anticipating the day with a sinking heart and an ache in the pit of your stomach, you’re in trouble.  Sit down today and rewrite the script.  I mean that literally.  Sit down with pen and paper and write a story in third person with you as the hero/heroine. In your story everything turns out for the best. Example, “Even though she saw her brother roll his eyes when she asked if they could each say something they were thankful for, it didn’t bother her.  She knew she couldn’t control what he thought.

Instead of anticipating problems, why not anticipate a day where the usual triggers don’t bother you at all?  You’ll be amazed at how well this works.

Memorize the serenity prayer. Even if you’re not spiritual or religious, this works as an affirmation:  Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (like people), the courage to change the things I can (like not letting others get to you), and the wisdom to know the difference.

Pick your battles. If Uncle Joe is drunk and he always gets insulting when he’s drunk, is that the time to give him a lesson in etiquette?  Probably not.  Instead of being hurt or angry, why not see him as someone who is (a) very troubled and (b) incapable of hurting you without your permission.

Don’t sucker punch.  Families are often too blunt with each other. If you need to tell a family member something that might sting, use this method:  “There’s something I need to say to you and it might upset you. That’s not my intention.” This method is so effective! Instead of hitting your sister with something she wasn’t expecting, you give her a warning. This allows her a bit of time to steel herself. I can promise you that whatever she conjures up in her head will be infinitely worse than what you finally say.

Cynical/negative people really care. My father was pretty grouchy. He didn’t think the glass was half full or half empty—he wanted to know what was in it and who put it there?  (Did I mention he was also suspicious?) After decades of observation (mine—he wasn’t committed) I realized that Dad was passionately negative because he really cared about the issues he complained about. He also felt powerless. Roz and Ben Zander wrote about this in The Art of Possibility, “A cynic is a passionate person who does not want to be disappointed again.”

SO, if you have a relative that gets all worked up this year, instead of trying to calm him down or just ignoring him (which as you know will only inspire him to repeat his points only more loudly), try saying, “You really care about this issue, don’t you?”  It may not stop him forever but he’ll be so shocked that you get it that it may stop him for a breath or two. If nothing else, you’ll score points.

Respond, versus react. What is ultimately true is that the only person you are able to control, Thanksgiving or not, is you.  So you can choose to react (which puts the person who pushed your button in charge of your emotions) or you can respond (which puts you firmly in charge).

I once heard a psychologist explain it best.  When you react, the small child inside you is controlling you. When you respond, your adult is at the helm.  Even if you’re the only “adult” present on Thursday isn’t that preferable?  Think how peacefully you’ll be able to sleep that night! (Added bonus:  no apologies to make!)

John McEnroe's Inner Child Reacting

Please know that one of the things I am very grateful for this Thanksgiving is the privilege it is to be able to “talk” with you via this blog.  I love it when you talk back so please feel free to write with kudos, criticisms or topic suggestions.

Have a happy!

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The Magical Power of Physiology

The way we carry ourselves, the position of our bodies has an amazing impact on how we feel and yet, how much attention do we pay to this?

I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately as I watch how people walk. Yes, you read that correctly—how people walk. Some walk with arrogance; some walk with great self-confidence; and some walk as if they’re hoping no one will notice them.

For example, I am writing this column in my favorite coffee shop and I just watched a woman walk across the room with shoulders slumped and her posture folded in; she carried her body as if completely disconnected from it. When she sat down, I took a closer look and noticed that her hair, make-up and clothing were perfect. My guess is that she stands in front of her mirror in the morning thinking she looks great. And she does, if she were to simply hold that pose all day long. However, if she saw herself on film as she walks, she would realize that all the time spent on trying to look good is wasted. Her body delivers the message—to her and to the rest of the world—that she lacks self-confidence. All the outer fixings in the universe cannot change that.

Why is this important? Because your physiology delivers to your brain distinct messages about how you are feeling in the moment. If your fists or jaw are clenched, your brain interprets that as extreme duress. If you are smiling, your brain’s interpretation is that you are happy. And even if you’re dressed in rags, when you hold yourself in a pose of self-confidence, the feelings follow.

Here is the magic of physiology: your brain does not know the difference between pretend and reality—all it knows is where you are focused. This is why books, music, movies and where we place our attention have such a profound impact. Have you ever been in a perfectly good mood, gone to a sad movie and walked out feeling blue? If there were a camera on you as you watched the film you would see your physiology change in response to the story. The quickest way to recover from this is to change your physiology. It turns out that “shake it off” is sage advice.

If you were crazy enough to allow it, I could teach you how to put yourself into a state of depression. All you need to do is slump your shoulders, collapse your core so it’s mushy, cast your eyes down, frown and breathe very shallow. Within minutes, I guarantee you will feel down. If you do it for a long period of time, you will be depressed.

On the flip side, if you are already feeling down, you can pull out of it by doing the opposite: sit or stand up straight, pull your stomach muscles tight, look out at the world, grin from ear to ear and breathe very deeply. Within minutes you would feel your mood lift. Imagine how great you’d feel if you did that for a long period of time.

We are in the midst of the holidays, a time when using the magical power of physiology can mean the difference between a season that reminds you how wonderful the holidays can be or the kind you cannot wait to be over and done with.

Here are some physiological “tricks” that will quickly elevate your mood:

Smile. If you really want to go for it, grin from ear-to-ear.
Sing. There’s holiday music playing everywhere. When you sing along, your brain gets the message you are in a good mood.
Laugh. This is a quick way to go from feeling stressed to feeling blessed.
Extend the hand of friendship. Doing for others is guaranteed to elevate your mood.
Dance. You can’t dance without music and when your brain hears music with a dance beat, it makes you—well, want to dance!
Hang out with happy children. Kids have their priorities straight—it’s all about what makes them happy.

The Law of Attraction says that you get more of what you focus on. When you “act as if” you immediately shift your brain’s focus. Ask yourself how you want to feel, adjust your body accordingly and watch how quickly you feel the way you want.

That’s the magical power of physiology!

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