Get Curious, Not Furious this Holiday Season. Like with most things in 2020, the holiday season will be a little different. But one thing remains the same: Thanksgiving and Christmas will bring with them some unwelcome guests — anxiety and stress.
As an emergency medicine physician and a life coach, I see the physical, mental and emotional toll stress takes on our bodies. The number of patients who seek care for psychological issues peaks during the holiday season as stress levels spike. Some patients come in with physical manifestations of their anxiety in the form of headaches and abdominal pain, while others develop chest pain and full blown panic attacks.
As we feel the need to stretch ourselves even further this year, our patience wears thin and we are more likely to have emotional outbursts in the form of yelling, crying, or threatening arguments with our loved ones. Afterwards, we may feel resentful of our own words and behavior. I believe we can avoid the majority of these unpleasant experiences by “getting curious, not furious.” If we can examine ourselves with the curiosity we approach a science experiment, we can change certain variables within ourselves and thereby change the outcome.
Here are a few reminders to implement in real time to see an impactful change in times of stress.
Take 3 Breaths to Reflect
Become aware of your body’s cues as your frustration begins to mount. If you feel your breathing becoming more shallow or your neck muscles tightening or your face flushing, take 10 seconds to focus on taking 3 deep breaths. If possible, step away from the conversation for a few minutes. As we learn to recognize our body’s changes and create a pause in our body’s flight or fight reaction, we can avoid an emotional outburst. Recognizing that we are in control of our thoughts and taking a moment to reflect before we act is powerful.
Meet One On One
Many family grudges carry on from one generation to another and are kept almost out of habit. If you are looking to break the cycle of negativity this holiday season, there is nothing better than to have a 1:1 conversation, without the bias of others being present. The only way to get to know someone without judgement is to have a respectful discussion in person — not over the phone or text where the three-dimensional nature of language and emotion gets lost. Speak genuinely and listen without reflexively thinking about your next response. Go in with the sincere intention of wanting to clear up misperceptions and focus on how your thoughts, feelings and life would improve if you mended the relationship.
Many times we expect too much of ourselves during family gatherings because of the influence of social media. We tend to compare ourselves to the highlight reel of influencers and put unreasonable pressure on ourselves. With these unrealistic expectations, we get easily stressed and lower our threshold for getting into an argument with those we are trying to spend time with. So what if the food is not the right temperature? It’s not the end of the world. Give yourself grace for trying and give yourself credit for the efforts and progress. We can avoid our own stress traps by knowing that the ultimate goal is to enjoy time together and have a few laughs, not be robotic and perfect.
Go in to the holidays knowing that your family will likely do things that frustrate and annoy you, and that you are in control of your reactions. Expressing gratitude, especially in those moments of high tension, can ease some of the frustrations. Know that it’s these imperfect family dynamics that make it memorable and humorous and leave everyone coming back for more — next year.