The idea of going home for the holidays to many can seem like an exciting time to reminisce with family, eat until you pass out and take a break from your career. To others, the holidays may bring undesirable and unresolved feelings to the surface which may create an association of family dysfunction and havoc to the holiday season. Everyone’s family dynamic is different and whether you fall under one of the aforementioned categories or in between, viewing the holidays as an opportunity for self growth and healthy differentiation from your family dynamics could dramatically improve the experience you have when you reunite with the family. I decided to come up with few tips and tricks to not let yourself get caught up with the holiday blues or to further build upon the relationships you have within your family.
List trigger points
Listing triggers points provides you with the opportunity to view your thoughts visually, whether on paper or on your phone. Doing so allows you to externalize these triggers and create a plan of action for each one. For trigger points that you anticipate as being too difficult to just ignore or resolve in the heat of the moment, add some premeditated “escape plans” that are safe, within reach and comfortable. If you feel comfortable doing so, inform family members beforehand that you would like to spend the holidays free of specific topics or trigger points in an effort to build a positive environment at home for the holidays.
Set an intention
Setting a positive intention for yourself to help carry you through the holidays can provide you with a sense of safety or comfort if you mind-chatter starts to get the best of you. Set a reminder to pop up on your phone a few times a day reminding you of your intention.
Give meaningful compliments
Compliment family members on their individual and relational strengths. Go beyond the “nice shoes” compliments. It takes a keen set of eyes and ears to scan for opportunities to sneak in a significant complement in conversation. One can also experience vulnerability by doing so, yet redirecting your mentality of vulnerability to improve self-growth can go a long way. Allow the reaction to the compliment, whether it be positive, negative or neutral, to simply exist and stay true to your positive intentions of making efforts to improve on family relationships. If the reaction is negative, read the next tip.
“Starve out projections”
Ignore what is unnecessary to entertain. If you’re aware of certain negative cycles that certain family members frequently project, practice ignoring those projections in a respectful manner. By ignoring, or “starving”, these projections, you refrain from providing them with the attention or validation they may be seeking in their own convoluted way. Silence can be an extremely effective tool to inform others of whether or not you believe something they are doing or saying is truly deserving of your attention.
Take a positively curious stance towards family members when they express their emotions. way by asking open ended questions. Refrain from “I” statements and allow yourself to continue the process of learning about the people who make up your family. A healthy family doesn’t allow this process to end. There is always something new to learn about another person.
For example, if a family member is expressing frustration over an incident that happened earlier this year, take interest by actively listening to how they feel about the situation. Unless he or she asks for your opinion on how to resolve the problem, don’t try to fix the problem. Emotions aren’t fixed, they’re understood. Refrain from questions that could be answered with a simple yes or no.
Empathy has been studied extensively in the field of Neuroscience. A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2013 demonstrated, through a variety of perception tests, that a certain part of our brain called the right supramarginal gyrus helps us to distinguish our own emotional state from that of other people. Disrupting the neurons in the supramarginal gyrus while conducting a task during the study made it difficult for participants to refrain from projecting their own feelings onto others (1).
If you’re going strong with a specific nourishment plan and holiday meals tend to wreak havoc on those plans, view them as rewards that won’t last beyond the holidays instead of viewing them as regret. If the feelings of regret are too strong, stay tuned for Anthony’s article on counteracting the ill-effects of holiday meals.
Seasonal affective disorder is real (2). In a recently published study from Michigan-State University, reduced daytime illumination was shown to lead to an increase of anxiety-like behaviors and altered Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal (HPA) axis functioning (3). Yes, the study was done on rats but the take away is that the the HPA directly connects the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the adrenal glands which all have strong influences on stress regulation, and the balance of moods and emotions. Use this tip as a general rule of thumb for improved health and wellness. Get outside even if the sun isn’t out, you’ll still get the UVs!