Though this was originally written as a primer for family gatherings during the holidays, the tips and practices for healthy gatherings are useful during this time too.
It’s early November, and many of my clients and friends are fretting.
“Which side of the family are we with this year?”
“Whose feelings are going to be hurt?”
“All the travel and presents are going to take a chunk out of my wallet.”
“Is the creepy uncle coming to town?”
“I’m going to eat too much and get fat and grumpy.”
For many of us, it goes beyond money, travel, and overeating stresses. Holidays can bring to the surface, old issues of betrayal, loneliness, anger, and despair.
But this season can also be a time of reconnection, generosity, and joy. So how do you choose that experience instead, while honoring your needs and anxieties?
1: Set Your Intentions
Intentions matter. Let’s start with a lot of do’s:
Laugh a lot
Love your people
Smile at everyone else
Be grateful (’tis the season!)
Be generous of spirit
I’m not going to prescribe any don’ts. Negative feelings may arise, and that is okay. (Although I do have one don’t for myself: I don’t eat Halloween candy! It triggers all sorts of unhealthy choices for me.)
2: Find Your Fear Voice
Find your inner voice that is feeling apprehension about the upcoming holidays and let it speak to you. This is your fear voice. Don’t necessarily believe these thoughts, but listen with curiosity.
When I listen to my fear voice, here’s a sample of what I hear:
[Emily walks into her local grocery store, clear-headed and in a pleasant mood. Suddenly, a huge display of Halloween candy materializes in her path.]
You’re kidding me. It can’t possibly be Halloween already. Here we go again. Why do we do this candy thing anyway? It just rots everyone’s teeth and poisons our bodies.
And do we have to do Thanksgiving at my brother’s house again? I bet the cousins with crazy political ideas are coming. And it’s always too crowded. The same difficult people are probably going to be difficult as usual.
I hate all this consumerism. Why do we have to do gifts anyway? I won’t do it. I will revolt! No more gifts. Everything ruins the environment, and we have plastic islands in the middle of the oceans to think about.
And to think, all that from an innocent stack of Reese’s and Hershey’s bars!
Feeling the crescendo of my rant at its peak, I take a pause and a deep breath. It’s clear that my fear voice, lurking in the wings as it normally does, is active again. How have I suddenly become Environmentalist Scrooge?
This awareness creates space for me to access the powerful choice that is always available to me: to realign my thoughts in a more positive direction.
3: Cultivate Your Nurturing Parent
Many of us are lucky enough to grow up with nurturing parents. If you did not have that experience, I invite you to look for that Nurturing Parent inside of you. What would a loving, truthful and inspiring voice say to you?
Speaking to yourself as the Nurturing Parent, acknowledge your stress and invite yourself to be at ease.
Don’t minimize your anxiety or dismiss it as silly.
Use this awareness to explore old woundings from your youth that may still be lingering. Where is this fear coming from? What does it feel like?
Respond to any real fears that you have for the holidays.
Your Nurturing Parent will help you distinguish between truth and distortion in your story.
You may still feel anxiety or anger. Take a deep breath and reassure yourself that you are safe. My motto for those moments is, “When in doubt, zoom out!” With the help of my Nurturing Parent, I reach for a broader perspective and re-evaluate the narrative of my fear voice to be more in line with my best self. It sounds something like this:
The short days mean cozy nights catching up on Netflix, gatherings with friends, leaves turning amazing colors, crispy morning walks, lots of twinkly lights, yummy foods, and excitement in the air.
When someone asks me what I’m doing for Thanksgiving, I get to say, “We always go to my brother’s house. He cooks everything, it’s amazing, and I get to just show up for the party. I love having a family, and I especially adore seeing my nieces, nephews, and cousins.
In short, I remember that there’s a lot I love about this season. And I more easily see the miracle of life and choose to be grateful for it.
4: Find a Better Way to Be
Imagine your best possible holiday season. Close your eyes and paint a picture of the outcomes you want. Imagine yourself gracefully navigating all of your stresses. Decide now how you want to feel and behave and commit to being the most loving version of yourself.
If you have a family to gather with, perhaps find gratitude for that. If you don’t have a family to gather with, spend time with friends or consider being of service. There are many people struggling with basic needs this time of year, and service is a wonderful way to experience a greater sense of purpose.
BONUS 5: Find Generosity
Choose generosity as a theme this year and decide to be a force of light for others. After all, ‘tis the season of lights! Watch how this choice impacts how you feel. I feel my best when my heart is filled with love and gratitude.
But it takes practice to shift from a fear paradigm to a love paradigm. I call this The Big Shift.
If you’re getting stirred up by family stuff, can you make this a gift? Even (and especially) our biggest frustrations can be opportunities to heal and more deeply understand yourself and your life. Everyone and everything is an ally on your great life journey.
Shine your light wherever and whenever you can, and light will shine back on you.