With Christmas adverts in full flow on the TV, painting a wonderful picture of family harmony and closeness, the pressure is on to create “The best Christmas ever!” Are you like many who look forward to Christmastime, yet have that niggling feeling it will bring disputes with the family, in-laws and/or your partner? The Family Mediation Helpline’s figures show almost 2 million couples will consider splitting up during the Festive Season. In fact, a survey of 100 UK law firms showed that January is the busiest month for divorce matters.
There are few absolutes in life, but we know with near certainty that the Festive Season stretches our relationships. Maintaining healthy relationships is always tough, especially so over this extended period of closer proximity to our nearest and dearest. Schopenhauer, a pessimistic philosopher, saw no end to this problem. He believed that such antagonism was all part of being human and felt that those who were able to generate their own warmth and support would find the most peace. So, a healthy relationship with our self is a pre-requisite for and central to balanced relationships in life.
Generally, in our culture during this intense period, life seems to accelerate. It can be frantic rushing around to see everyone. We become stressed and anxious trying to get it ‘right’. I observed this, time and again, in my role as an Emergency Nurse. We need to find strategies to manage this, so we don’t “crash and burn”. It’s so important we remain grounded, self-supportive and able to take those, so needed, moments of self-care. It’s important to step back from life: to make sure we are (at the very least) ‘OK’. I give you permission to ask yourself from time to time: “In this moment, what do I need right now?”
Of course, there’s no magic prescription or over-the-counter survival remedy, but here are some helpful nuggets of wisdom:
Manage your alcohol intake:
We all know alcohol can loosen the tongue and lead to unwanted behaviours, so it’s important to make some wise choices.
Choose your attitude:
Victor Frankl in his bestselling book “Man’s Search for Meaning” said that part of Man’s free will is being able to choose our attitude towards a given situation. Our attitude and approach will determine how others respond to us. I do add a caveat here, as sometimes, in adversity, this can be incredibly difficult. So, if you find yourself in such a situation, at least be there for yourself and find your own self-kindness. I do appreciate that turning towards our self is not always easy!
Know your limits:
This means exactly that. Know what your boiling point is! Know when it’s time to step back and view things differently. Perhaps call a ‘time-out’ and take some ‘me time’ or self-care?
Manage your expectations for yourself and others. Be realistic. I don’t buy into ‘The American Dream’ and ‘Cheerleader Idealism’. We are only human after all and have our flaws, vulnerabilities, burdens, wounds and fears to carry. Perhaps it’s time to let go of some stuff?
Don’t neglect this valuable tool. It’s great for burning off those stress hormones and re-balancing the nervous system.
You maintain the responsibility and ownership for your own personal space and what happens in it. Your body is your personal container for moving and being in the world. Make sure you connect with your body. Know where it begins and ends. Decide not to take what others do personally –
it’s just their projection onto you. You can choose not to digest criticism and negative feedback. Be a skillful ‘tennis player’ and bounce anything back that you choose not to ‘own’.
A helpful tool for regulating the emotions and nervous system is ‘7/11 breathing’. It’s simple, yet effective. The longer outbreath creates ‘parasympathetic nervous system relaxation’ – a little like applying the brakes in a car. This changes how our brain and body react to triggers and events. ‘7/11 breathing’ provides a gap, so we can step back and choose how to respond; rather than be dominated by nature’s evolutionary immediate desire for survival. Simply breathe in, counting in your head to 7 and then out for the count of 11. Remember to relax the jaw and facial muscles too – a clenched jaw is a primordial patterned response for anger.
Speak from the ‘I’:
When responding to someone, always speak from your own truth and feelings, and not from the necessity to change their opinion. You can ‘agree to disagree’ and perhaps even find some compromises in advance of festive gatherings. See behind the words and actions of others with compassion and look for the needs they are trying to express.
I hope that this blog is of some help. Wishing you your best possible Christmas this year.