HOW TO SURVIVE FAMILY TIME
This week is the start of the November/December holiday season, and we all know what that can mean: one mental breakdown after another. Between family, work stress, the holidays, breakups, and new year’s resolutions, it can be a stressful 6 weeks until you turn the corner into 2018.
So today we’re talking about how to survive family holiday time. Because the holidays don’t have to be so stressful that you limp into 2018 like you just returned from war.
So here’s my holiday survival tip: The best thing you can do to prepare for family time is to practice deciding what to think ahead of time.
Most of us act like our emotions just happen to us. Our thought process is basically “I hope the happy bus goes by today,” or “I hope I don’t get hit by the sadness freight train.” We go through the day acting like we have no control over how we think or feel and just hoping we get lucky to have the feelings we want.
Imagine doing your job that way, or feeding your body. You wouldn’t be like “Well I just hope I encounter some food that shoves itself into my mouth today,” or “I hope I happen to show up to the right office to do my job today.”
What no one teaches us it that we can take all that energy we waste worrying about what might happen and use it to plan how to think and feel on purpose.
Here’s an exercise: get out a sheet of paper and write down something you’re worried may happen, either during your Thanksgiving family time, or any other time. Maybe it’s not your mom commenting on your weight, or your uncle saying something racist. Maybe it’s your sister implying you’re not taking enough care of your parents–whatever it is, write it down.
Now write down why you are afraid of this. Remember, you are only afraid that you will feel a way you don’t want to feel. You are worried you’ll feel sad, or rejected, or ashamed, or angry, or hurt.
And what causes your feelings? Your thoughts.
That means when you worry about your family saying or doing something that will upset you, what you are really worried about is that you will have a thought that will cause an unwanted feeling. It’s not about what your family member will do. It’s about what you will think and feel when they do it.
If you want to react differently, the solution is not to stress out ahead of time about whether it will happen and hoping it doesn’t. The solution is to decide ahead of time what you want to think on purpose when it happens. In the moment, you’re going to be reactive, and you won’t be able to think clearly, but you can think clearly now. So now is when you want to decide what you’ll think.
For instance, if your mom says “you look like you’ve gained weight,” your normal reaction may be to think “she thinks I look bad” and to feel hurt and cry. But you can decide ahead of time to think “maybe she’s saying that because she was brought up to worry about her own weight, and she’s self-conscious about it.” That thought will help you feel a little compassion, and a little more neutral.
Deciding what to think ahead of time gives you power. When you practice ahead of time, you don’t have to wonder if you’re going to cry into your mashed potatoes. You don’t have to worry about whether you’re going to feel sad or anxious or have your feelings hurt. You get to decide ahead of time that you’re not doing any of that.
You can decide to feel grateful, or happy, or neutral. You can decide to feel stoic–whatever you want. Once you decide how you want to feel, you just have to come up with a thought to think that will produce that feeling.
Practice thinking about it before you get there. Practice thinking about it while you’re there. Practice thinking about it the next day. Practice, practice, practice.
The more you practice, the more naturally this thought will come to mind, and then you’ll be driving your own emotional bus, instead of letting it run you over.