Hey, mamacitas. Enjoy Kate Hanley’s 6 tips on how to enjoy and not stagger through the holidays with family…and leave a comment below with your best tip, for a chance to win Kate’s book, The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide. You can also stay in touch with Kate at her website, www.msmindbody.com.
Six Ways to Stress Less At Holiday Family Gatherings
by Kate Hanley, author of The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide
One of the hallmarks of the holidays is eating at least one meal with as many family members as you can assemble in one room. Even though they’re designed to be celebrations, these family gatherings are often a lot more stressful than they are festive. I’ve got a liberal brother-in-law who loves to talk politics—loudly—with his most conservative sibling. And my beloved 90-year-old grandmother just can’t seem to help herself from commenting on my hair or my outfit; even after almost 40 years the smallest slight from her can still set my teeth on edge. That’s the thing about family—the emotions involved are so strong and so deep that the people we know and love the best also push our buttons the most.
Since I started practicing yoga and mindfulness nearly 15 years ago, I’ve been paying more attention to what happens at my family events, to see if I can apply some of the tools I’ve been learning in my practice to my family interactions. Because I love my family. I don’t get to see them enough. And I inevitably feel guilty about getting so wrapped up in my own reactions to the quirks in our family dynamic that I miss the opportunity to enjoy—or even be fully present at—the party.
Here’s what I’ve figured out: I can’t change anyone’s behavior. My brother-in-law will always talk politics at full volume, my grandmother will always care about my appearance and point out anything that’s not up to her high standards. But I can change the way I react when my buttons get pushed. It doesn’t mean I spend the entire time giddy and happy and carefree, but it does mean I’m more tolerant of my loved ones and of myself when I do find myself wanting to roll my eyes, or to push away any of my own emotional discomfort by eating or drinking too much.
Below are some of the self-care techniques I use to stay a little more grounded and a little more open to the wonderful chaos that only a family gathering can produce. Some you can do before you go, some you can use when you’re sitting at the table (without raising any eyebrows). May they help you make this holiday season feel a little less chaotic, and a little more charmed.
1.Get grounded. Every major mind-body tradition considers the earth to be a source of strength, support, and energy. When you’re sitting at the dining room table and the wheels are turning in your mind, bring your focus back in to your body and help steady yourself by bringing the soles of both feet flat to the floor.
2.Stand by your mantra. Before you head to the gathering, decide which family quirks you’re dreading the most. Then resolve to repeat a calming mantra whenever your stress trigger happens. Your mantra can be any word or short phrase that’s meaningful to you, whether it’s something formal, like ‘Om’ or ‘Amen,’ or something simple such ‘peace’ or ‘bless his heart.’ Whatever mantra you choose, taking a few moments to repeat it silently before you react to whatever is pushing your buttons gives you a chance to collect your thoughts—making you less likely to over-react.
3.Accentuate the positive. Before you leave for the event, take a few moments to name the parts of the day you’re looking forward to—such as eating your Mom’s apple pie, seeing your favorite cousin, or playing with your niece. Then if anything happens to spike your stress levels, make it a point to focus on the things you like. Changing your focus from something upsetting to something enjoyable can snap you out of a downward spiral in mood.
4.Practice the art of letting go. There are acupressure points known as Letting Go in your upper chest, and stimulating them facilitates the release of troublesome emotions, deepens breathing, and promotes relaxation. You can do it in your car before you go inside or even in the bathroom if you need help during the festivities. To find the Letting Go points, feel the tips of your collarbones on either side of the notch of your throat. Walk your fingers out to where the collarbones end—the Letting Go points are located three finger widths below that end point. Now that you know where the points are, press two or three fingertips in to them (it may be more comfortable to cross your arms over your chest) and breathe naturally as you do for a minute or so. You don’t need to go for the burn—think steady but gentle pressure.
5.Remember your heart. Whenever you need help staying tolerant, take a moment to lay one hand over your heart. This simple gesture reminds you that you do indeed have a heart and helps you react with love instead of frustration. If anyone in your family catches you doing it and looks at you funny, just tell them you have heartburn.
6.Blow off steam. If you ever feel yourself coming close to saying something you’ll regret, de-stress with an exercise derived from yoga’s lion pose. Head in to the bathroom, and sit up tall on the toilet (hey, whatever it takes, right?). Clench your fists, squeeze your eyes shut, and tighten all the muscles in your face, then open your eyes and mouth wide, splay your fingers, and stick out your tongue and exhale with a loud whisper noise. It drains tension out of the body and expels anger, and helps you express what you want to get off your chest without actually hurting anyone’s feelings.
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