Let’s face it – holidays are a time when families come together with the best of intentions and still often manage to fall into arguments and disagreements. Memories of past events can spark anxiety and fear that this year will be “more of the same.” Giving families who deeply love each other a vibe of tension and stress that is the opposite of the holiday spirit.
Sometimes, the topics you talk about are too dicey – politics and religion fall into this bucket. Other times, it’s recalling past events where you remember it one way and your sibling or cousin remembers it a different way. Staying calm in the moments when you want to throttle your loved one is hard. But, learning how to manage your emotions is a life skill that will help you time and time again.
If you take anything from this article to help your holiday season, remember the value of taking a “pause.”
A pause is a deep breath (one that is obvious enough to notice or completely private as breathing) that brings your internal temperature down so that you start to feel calm and centered.
Pausing helps you remember how you want to behave such that you can stop a tense moment from escalating. Lots of people with ADHD are told they need to learn how to “self-regulate” and really, this is your ability to manage your emotions, physical reactions as you work on a goal at hand. In this case, keeping the peace during the holidays.
Does that mean you have to tolerate poor behavior from your family? Absolutely not. But if you want to not fuel the fire, learning how to regulate your emotions and pause before you react will help you speak your mind (and your peace) in ways that are aligned with your highest values.
So the first question to ask is what do you want to achieve this holiday season? Do you want to have kindness or generosity win out? Do you want to learn more from your family/loved ones? Do you want to share about your life and what’s happened this year?
Set that intention before walking into your family get-together so you have that goal to fall back on when tension arises.
With that goal in mind, consider these 6 tips to help you regulate your feelings, be your true self AND have a holiday season that aligns with your priorities.
#1 Assume The Best Intentions
During your holiday conversations, assume that your family members have good intentions behind what they’re saying. Listen for opinions and emotions to help see what’s underneath what’s being said. You can validate the feelings and emotions of both those you agree with and those you do not by saying things like, “Interesting, I hear you.” Or, “that must feel hard for you.”
As you express your opinions, remember to focus on the kindness, compassion, acts of love, affection and respect your relative has shown you for years. John Gottman’s work shows that it takes 5 positive interactions to overcome one negative interaction and therefore it’s crucial to remember that what you say can damage your relationship.
#2 Step Into Your Relative’s Shoes
Try to understand another person’s point of view by avoiding assumptions about their motivations or perspective. Practice managing your emotions by asking with genuine curiosity:
What could be going on in the other person’s life?
What is the other person’s situation?
What do I know about her motivation, values and intentions?
Listen, reflect and reserve judgment; you might even come to find insight you did not anticipate.
#3 Watch Your Tone and Dismissive Comments
Emotions often bubble up into our tone and comments, so listen to how you say the things you say. Further, name calling and zingers will not build a bridge to understanding. If your intention is to speak to your family with respect, take steps like deep breathing and pausing before responding to ensure your tone remains neutral.
Avoid using words like always and never or bold statements just to make a point. Make a plan in advance to respond to someone who does not follow this advice and may become aggressive to you, for instance saying, “I really hope we can keep this conversation respectful,” or “I am hearing you become frustrated, let’s continue to try to understand each other.”
Active listening means you are interested and are hearing the other person’s point of view – without judgment. A good exercise in advance of the holiday is to consider what listening and speaking compassionately looks like to you.
Some things to consider:
- Avoid interrupting or waiting for your chance to speak your opinion
- Make eye contact with others when you can.
- Check your body language and facial expressions.
- Use reflective listening to recap what the person said and show empathy with comments like, “That must be hard,” or “Now I understand why you think this way.”
Listening to someone can help relieve their suffering so be a shoulder to lean on when you can.
#5 Defuse Emotional Flooding
When you feel upset, your heightened emotions can cause you to feel overwhelmed in an experience that’s known as “flooding.” This is when your emotions seem to hijack your brain and behavior and you can’t “think”.
Manage your emotions by paying attention to your body signals.
- Where do you typically feel heightened emotions rising in your body?
- What does it feel like when you are angry, anxious?
- What does it feel like to lose control?
- Do you get flushed, feel a stomach ache, tingling in your arms and legs?
Use mindfulness to help manage your emotions by breathing in and out, pausing before speaking, chewing slowly, and ground yourself by placing your feet on the ground and noticing how your legs feel.
#6 Don’t Pressure or Influence Your Family Members
Holidays are not a time for educating or changing someone’s mind. There is no need to cajole, shame, scold or coerce. Instead, communicate better by asking questions to understand their side of things. You can decide how you feel about it once the visit is over and you have some physical and emotional distance.
Now more than ever, we need to be reminded of skills to listen, show respect and empathize. Practice these social skills with gusto. There are probably many areas where you agree with your family or where you have a mutual fondness – even if you have to reach as far back as a shared favorite movie or family memory. When you remember the things you love and appreciate about each other it’s a lot easier to fall into a positive holiday experience vs one that’s tense, stressful or uncomfortable.
From our family to yours, we hope you have a wonderful holiday season.