Navigating Family Stress During Holidays

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The holidays are a wonderful time to reconnect with your friends and loved ones. The season also coincides with celebrations of different traditions and rites all over the world. These festivities also seem to bring out the worst in people. Whether it is the over-crowded malls, the traffic or simply the pressure to be jolly, people seem to have a hard time keeping the spirit merry. It does not help that we must do this all while spending several days entertaining or visiting with family.

When astronauts receive their mission orders, they do not pick their crew. The crews are chosen based on mission needs with no attention to personality or even geo-political issues. This is not unlike being in a family! You did not choose these people but for some unknown reason, you were brought together to accomplish this mission called ?Life?.

How do you keep it together for the holidays? What lessons can we take from astronauts in how to relate during this happiest and toughest time of year?

Astronauts are chosen for their ability to maintain their cool under pressure. This is a critical human skill in conditions that are extremely abnormal. This skill, like any, can be practiced and mastered by anyone. The most important aspect to any goal is defining it. If you decide that this year will be calm and fun, then all your actions must follow. Grace under pressure starts with making the right choices, avoiding ?hot topics? and knowing when to walk away.

Choose the Right Emotions

Despite common beliefs, reacting to people is not automatic. Human beings can appraise their emotions and choose what they mean. For example: You feel a tightness in your stomach along with racing thoughts. You can say you feel anxious or worried or you can appraise these feelings as ?excitement?. Emotions have positive and negative aspects to them, called valences, which are determined by the individual. Emotions may be automatic but how we define them and act on them are not.

Hot Topic

We used to say that we should only talk about the weather but with the issues surrounding climate change, even that is off limits. If you are forced to spend time with different opinions, then create a mental list of ?hot topics? to avoid. Most people can avoid discussing one thing or another. However, if they insist on discussing something on your list, you are faced with another choice- engage or decline the offer. You are in control.

Exit Strategy

Reminding yourself of your goal is a great way to avoid conflict. A simple goal of ?be nice? is enough to guide all your decisions. Jumping into a political argument is harder to do when you remember that everyone around you is affected by this decision. To be nice does not only cover your reactions but will also govern your behavior. If someone says something offensive, it is a cue to step out of the room. There are always dishes to wash.

The holidays should be a time to create memories and celebrate the year. You could waste your time bickering or you can make the most of your time enjoying the moment. It seems that there are 11 other months in the year that you can devote to arguing about climate change or the latest political dilemma. Or you can spend those months setting boundaries, settling old hurts and establishing healthy communication patterns that will ensure that the holidays go completely according to plan.

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