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Managing Holiday Stress

Holiday time without the added pressure of being a performer can be a trial all by itself; having to deal with the gift giving thing and family dynamics can put one over the edge for sure. We often look forward to going home for the holidays and have some idealized vision of what it will look, sound and feel like. That is until we are actually home for a couple of hours or days and then it seems like the wheels tend to fall off of that emotionally anticipated comfort zone. Instead of being the dynamic, self assured, smart, competent, happy, and well adjusted grown-up that you are now, you fall back into playing whatever role you took on within the family dynamics when you were a kid. Everyone starts pushing your buttons and you start reacting by pushing back and everyone’s emotions are off and running. No matter how you try, it seems impossible to get out of this emotional state, even if you are lucky enough to be able to notice that this is what is happening to you and your relationship with each extended family member and even with old friends.

Well, we have all been there for sure. But having some skills to turn that old role playing around not just for you, but for your whole family, is such a gratifying and positive experience that it is well worth making the new, in control, outcome one of the gifts you are going to be giving everyone this year, including yourself. No one said it was going to be easy. So I guess the question is, are you up for it?

"Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret." - Ambrose Bierce

The first skill you need is to be awake, conscious and present. That means you need to know what the family dynamic game is, what the rules are and most importantly, how the game is played by each member. Not an easy task when you start to feel the pull of the game starting. It happens so fast, that often we don’t even notice that we are being pulled back into this time warp.

But you can do it. It doesn’t mean that you are going to be 100% successful the first go-around. But each time you slip into that game you can simply remember who you are right now, an adult however imperfect, but an adult, so you can make the choice to become in charge of how you want your world to function. It’s time to step up and when you start to see, hear or feel that pull into “the game” you can simply say to the other participant something like, “Hey, let’s not play that game anymore. It’s really childish, don’t you think?”, and walk off. It has to be done in a casual, light, and yet sincere way. The first couple of times you change the rules of the game like this, it will leave others astonished and surprised. They will not know quite how to react and that is exactly how one starts to change the rules of the game. They will try even harder to engage you in “the game” looking for the usual reaction and may call on others to participate on their behalf. The good news is that when they start to understand that you can’t and won’t be drawn into their game, they will start trying to figure out what the new game is and how they might fit into it. However if they are so invested in only playing their game their way, they may leave your circle for good and look for others that are more interested in reacting and bringing others down because it makes them feel better about themselves. These are folks you don’t really need in your life. You are looking for others of like mind that share and support your values, ideas, and choices in life.

"Are we not formed, as notes of music are, for one another, though dissimilar?" - Percy Bysshe Shelley

Because you are taking conscious action rather than simply reacting unconsciously, you get to continue to build and strengthen your Personal Brand. And because you are becoming more consistent in your choices and behaviors others see, hear and feel what they can expect from you time after time. You become more reliable and dependable each time you make the choice to step up and be who you are. And this also crosses over to your behavior and choices in the professional world as well.

Here is another very easy way to get out of your emotions when they are not the ones you want to be invested in; the ones that create behaviors not consistent with your Personal Brand.

"Everyone wants to live at the top of the mountain forgetting that how we climb is all that matters." - Gabriel Barcia Marquez, author

Again, one needs to be awake, conscious and present to execute this skill. I think the real key to any of this is to be able to notice the very first inklings of being pulled into an unwanted emotional state. It could be something you see, hear of feel. The closer you can come to recognizing the very first twinges of that emotion, the better the chance for choosing to step out of it. And that is exactly what you do. Most people don’t believe this works until they actually try it for themselves because it doesn’t seem plausible that something so simple works.

So here is what I want you to do: I want you to call up a memory that puts you into an undesired emotional state. You can’t just go through the motions or imitate an emotion; you have to fully and authentically feel it. It means allowing yourself to first trigger, then fully embrace and get into an unwanted emotion through one of your very own real, unhappy, unpleasant memories. Once you are immersed in it completely, mentally, physically and spiritually, take one giant step physically out of it in any direction, off to the side, back or to the front, leaving the memory and emotion over there in the spot you just left. This affords you the opportunity to look at it for exactly what it is, and make a choice based only on this unemotional, untainted information. You learn to disassociate yourself from the emotion in that important moment. Everyone can do it. It may be more difficult for some than others, but everyone can learn to use this skill. It permits you to take action rather than always just react. And like everything else we choose to incorporate into our daily lives, making it a habit takes practice.

"Never confuse motion with action." - Benjamin Franklin

If you have taken that step out of the emotion, leaving it over there, and feel like a hook or arm of that emotion reaches over on a bungee cord and hooks you in again, simply physically notice where the hook is attached, grab it, unhook it and let it spring back to that spot where you left the emotion in the first place, “over there”. You may have to do this several times until it stays “over there”. Then you have the possibility to evaluate what kind of action you want to take or perhaps no action is required. You don’t just react anymore. It does work, but like I said before you can’t pretend to do it or imitate the process. You have to actually participate with your whole self in this process or it won’t work.

"Stress comes from within; it is your reaction to circumstances, not the circumstances themselves." - Brian Tracy

Getting caught up in our emotions in an unconscious manner doesn’t only happen in real time or in face to face encounters. We can be drawn in through the virtual world via Skype, through email, Facebook, Twitter or whatever. Your job is to be awake, alert, conscious and very present so you can notice when that first tug and twist of unbridled emotion shows up. That is your alarm system saying you have a choice here. You can either give in and be swallowed up and out of control emotionally reacting in an unconscious manner with probably an unsatisfying outcome both physically and mentally or you can choose to dissociate yourself by stepping out of that emotion, leaving it “over there”, looking at it for what it is and choosing to take action or not, whatever seems logical and rational. That seems like the better choice to me.

Happy Holidays! Ciao until next year! Carol

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