Do you dread upcoming holiday family gatherings?
It may not be a fun thing to admit, but there wouldn’t be so many movie and sitcom comedies about disastrous holiday family gatherings if it weren’t so common. So if you’re not looking forward to holiday family gatherings, know that you’re not alone, and that if you wish, you can let go of any guilt or shame you feel around dreading them. The perfect family does not exist on this planet, from the very first family to the First Family in any town or country, to your family.
Here’s tools to survive and even thrive through holiday family gatherings.
There are two primary scenarios that can be especially troublesome:
- First, Sensitive and/or Gifted Kids or teens having Major Meltdowns during family gatherings.
- Second, Sensitive and/or Gifted Adults having old emotional wounds opened up, or new ones made by things that other family members do or say, either preparing for the holidays, or during holiday family gatherings
Even If Your Kids and Teens are High Strung, Highly Sensitive, have Food Sensitivities, AD/HD, ADD, Allergies, are “Difficult”, Gifted or Twice Exceptional ─
HERE’S HELP AND HOPE to Prevent Holiday Meltdowns!
- BREATHE! As soon as you sense or see Trouble coming, ask your child or teen to do BELLY BREATHING with you. Here’s how: put your hands on your own belly, they put their hands on their own bellies, and BREATHE, just breathe. Everybody slows your own breathing down, especially on the exhale. As you do this, everyone will relax, you will all think more clearly, and your emotions can calm themselves. Keep doing Belly Breathing together until 1) everyone dissolves into giggles or 2) your Creative Problem Solving Skills re-engage.
- EXERCISE! Physical Exercise is the #1 Antidote to stress AND the #1 anti-depressant. It also gets the blood flowing to feed the brain, for good planning and problem solving skills. SO start every day, especially during the holidays, with a Family Fun Time that includes lots of physical activity AKA e-x-e-r-c-i-s-e for everyone.
- EAT HEALTHY! Plan ahead to avoid fast food. Reduce or eliminate sugar, include a protein and veggies in all snacks and meals, eat at regular intervals and pay attention to food allergies or intolerances. ASK what’s in foods that others bring to gatherings. Help your kids to make connections between food and drink and feeling or acting badly. Train your kids to ask and to avoid foods that cause them negative outcomes. Consult your pediatrician to determine true food allergies.
- ROUTINE, ROUTINE, ROUTINE! Dr. Matt & Dr. Kelly have two very highly sensitive little ones, ages 3 and almost 5. They have the desire, just like all of us, to make the holidays special times for everyone. They report that compromising on this one, especially with bedtimes or sweets can guarantee future meltdowns, sometimes for days.
- MAKE SURE YOUR KIDS AND TEENS GET ENOUGH SLEEP. Dr. Brian has three elementary and middle school age sons; his #1, TOP TOOL to avoid holiday meltdowns is to make sure that YOU AND your kids get enough sleep, no matter what your/their age.
- KEEP CALM & DANCE ON. The best way to calm a child is to . . . . . calm YOURSELF! How do you do THAT? Read on . . . .
Sharon’s Top Ten Tools for Holiday Joy
This is like a holiday buffet dinner. Pick what appeals to you, leave the rest:
1. KISS: Keep it Simple, Sweetheart! No one can do it all, be it all; have it all. Perfection does not exist on this planet. ALSO, there is no cosmic Holiday Police checking to make sure you “do the holidays” RIGHT, so KISS.
2. Make choices based on what’s important to you and your family. Give up the Should’s, Ought’s & Have-to’s. Find ways to honor the holidays and your family without having their (or your own) demands exhaust you.
- Don’t expect your holidays to go perfectly. The holidays are full of Soul, and Soul always brings the Trickster. Today’s screw-ups are often tomorrow’s fond and funny memories.
- Take care of yourself: get enough sleep, eat healthy food at regular intervals, keep up (or start) an exercise routine; pace yourself. Take time out to relax and allow your soul to catch up with your body. Eliminate ALL that conflicts with this.
- Emphasize people over things, events or tasks; and love over money. Let’s focus on expressing and receiving love & keep gift-giving and spending in perspective. What will still be important in two or six months, five or twenty-five years from now? Focus here.
- Expect some family tensions and conflicts, and don’t take them too seriously when they come. Practice kindness at home first. The holidays evoke the child in all of us, so consciously activate your Inner Adult.
- Don’t try to do all the holiday tasks yourself. You’ll end up exhausted and likely resentful. Delegate responsibilities, or better yet, let everyone choose something to do that’s important to them, and let the rest go.
- Lighten up! Have some fun. Do little things to bring the light and magic of the holidays into your life, and the lives of those important to you. Remember that the holidays are about the light of love, hope and new beginnings for everyone.
- If your life isn’t what you wanted it to be by now, or you’ve experienced a significant loss recently, remember that it’s normal to feel setbacks & losses more during the holidays. The darkness in nature connects us with the darkness within ourselves more than at other times of the year. It’s also easy to get caught up in expectations of what the holidays are ‘supposed’ to be and feel bad when they’re not that way. Again, Give up the Should’s, Ought’s & Have-to’s. You also may find it helpful to not carry on the old traditions, but to do something different. Some may find it helpful to do something tangible to honor your grief; if you do, give yourself permission to do whatever it is. In addition, it can be important to find support for yourself. Don’t try to cope alone.
- Reach out to others who are also hurting. Helping others can take your focus off yourself and may alleviate your pain more than anything else. Listen to your gentle inner voice of wisdom, and you’ll know if and when this is fitting for you.
- Bonus Tool #1: Shift Inner Gears so you can connect with the deeper significance of the stories behind the holidays. Hanukah, Christmas and many others center around times of great darkness and deep trouble─times when human kind knew no way out and seemed doomed─but help did come. Help came often at the last second , and it came in unexpected, irrational and often numinous ways. Many of these stories also include themes of scarcity and exclusion or banishment and exile. There was no room in the Inn in Bethlehem. There was not enough oil for the lamps. More recent stories such as Rudolph are also about personal differences leading to exclusion and banishment to exile. What can be easy to forget in these stories is that each one includes some kind of alienation. You may be alienated from others, but the worst kind is when you are alienated from yourself. When you reconcile with your Inner Self, you can then activate the coping skills you need to deal with the rest, and trust God or the Universe to provide what is needed when it is needed most.
- Bonus Tool #2: When you get overtaken by Overwhelm, Meltdown Mode, Old hurts or wounds being opened up or reactivated, first return to our first #1: BREATHE. THEN consider this: Meltdowns and recurrent hurts are often best described as what Carl Jung called Autonomous Complexes. They have a life of their own, and once activated, they take over, somewhat like a virus takes over a computer. When they are activated, they usually take a similar course and the same thoughts and feelings flood into you. Becoming aware of them and being able to identify that what’s going on inside of you (or someone else, for that matter) is coming from a Complex is the first step in dealing with them. Once you know that this is what’s happening, you can stop taking it so seriously, stop believing it literally, and let it ‘play’ in the background without giving it your full attention any more. For example I recently went to take a walk on a public trail, and when I parked my car in the lot, there was a woman next to a car in the next parking space with her bicycle. I greeted her as I walked by. She gave no response. It wasn’t long before I heard a tirade in my head: “See? Even strangers won’t talk to you! Now you know there’s something wrong with you! Something . . . .” About this time, I caught on. Inferiority Complex had shown up and was trying to hijack my mind. Catching on allowed me to converse with it in my imagination: “Hello, Inferiority Complex! You can’t fool me with your nonsense, not today. There’s dozens of reasons why this woman might not have responded to me.” With that, my chest expanded, I released the hurt and tension I had quickly picked up, and I breathed deeply and easily once again. My energy increased, my pace quickened, and I proceeded on my walk without being haunted by Ms. Monster Inferiority Complex. Identifying and diffusing a Complex is not always this quick nor easy, but this is an example of what happens when we become aware and are empowered.
Special Thanks to these Health Care Providers for their input in the Help & Hope Section above:
- Drs Matthew & Kelly Barnes, DC, Barnes Chiropractic, Centennial, CO 720-985-0056
- Brian Berlener, DC, Berlener Chiropractic Centennial, CO 303-351-3590
- Peter Knott, MD, Indian Crest Pediatrics, Westminster, CO 303-422-7677
Peace and joy to you and yours this Holiday Season!
Sharon M. Barnes, MSSW, LCSW
Creative Transformation Specialist
Therapist For Sensitive and Gifted