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5 Steps for Transforming Stress & Family Problems

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Will it be a time of plenty and gratitude? Or will there be stress and family conflict? And you know what happens in December… Most of us will spend time with our families – dinners, weekend visits, and many of us spend a week or more with parents, children, in-laws and extended family members. Will the holidays bring joy and celebration, or will holiday stress and family problems create anxiety and disappointment?

Sometimes family problems and relationship distress are inevitable. Disagreements, old tensions, and outright conflict are undesirable, but normal, in human relationships. You might consider therapy – possibly family counseling – as part of your holiday preparations. In the meantime, we suggest 5 coping skills for transforming stress and family problems to serenity and family harmony – or at least some peace of mind and goodwill toward all.

1. Practice Holiday Mindfulness

Mindfulness is probably the single most important coping skill at any time. It’s even more important at times of stress, such as the holidays, with so many demands and family tensions. Mindfulness is simply awareness and acceptance of what is, without judgments or expectations. We can easily practice mindfulness by using the one breath – in through the nose, out through the mouth – as a centering device. As you focus on that one breath, remind yourself to detach from holiday and family drama. Don’t react to stressful situations. Take a breath and remind yourself that peace and serenity always come first. It’s the best gift you can give yourself.

(Many of us tend to drink a little too much – maybe excessively – during the holidays. Alcohol is a sedative drug and interferes with mindfulness practice.)

2. Holiday Loving Kindness

The antidote to anger, disappointment, frustration, and family conflict is unconditional love and an attitude of gratitude. The holidays are a perfect time to practice compassion and empathy toward others. The greatest gift of all is to love and be loved – and that includes self-love. Self-love is not selfish. Rather, self-love is a radical form of self acceptance. When there are family problems or disappointments during the holidays, remember to practice forgiveness: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

3. Create Peace of Mind and Celebration

The way we experience the holidays (and life in general) is determined more by the way we think and believe than by situations or other people. The great psychoanalyst Carl

Jung once said that “I am not what happened to me; I am what I choose to become.” We allow ourselves to be triggered by others, and then we form resentments – we blame, we feel like victims, and we become judgmental (bad, wrong, stupid, crazy, etc.). Mindful awareness allows us to create new meaning and serenity. We can change our minds about holiday stress and relatives who “make us crazy.” Mindfully choose peace of mind as you detach from the drama; and choose to celebrate the buzz of holiday activity. Even a shopping trip to the busy mall for holiday gifts is an opportunity to take a time out and find your inner peace and gratitude – while waiting for a parking space or in line to make your purchase.

4. Change the Holiday Dance

Mahatma Gandhi once said “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” If your holiday dance used to be a SIDE shuffle (Stressed out, Irritated, Disappointed and Exasperated), create the change you want. Empower yourself to do it your way. Create positive action and solutions. When you’re stressed out, take a break. When family members are negative or complaining, set a loving boundary and don’t personalize.

5. Holiday Kinship

It’s easy to forget that we’re all in this together. We need support, friendship and intimacy almost as much as we need food, water and air. Know what you need and ask others for support. When you’re at odds with others during the holidays, create teamwork by suggesting, encouraging and inviting. And be willing to compromise and accept other ideas with graciousness and generosity.

As you prepare for the holidays, we hope these coping skills will help you navigate through stressful times. And if there are difficult family problems or any other holiday stress that feels unmanageable, we hope you will consider giving yourself the gift of support from one of our counselors or therapists by contacting us today.