Your Pocket Cheat Sheet to Help Reduce Holiday Stress

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November 15, 2017

By Gail Gaspar as presented on  Photo above copyright Gail Gaspar 2017.

Holidays can be wonderful but many, if not most, families do have some stress associated with these gatherings.  It can be a sad time for those who have lost relatives in the past year, or who are missing relatives who they enjoyed spending holidays with over the years.  The stress might not even be related to you.  Dinners may involve having people together who might otherwise choose not to see each other, clashing personalities, differing political opinions …  

My friend Gail Gaspar, who has great insight and blogs from her own website, gave me permission to share this piece with you.  Let us hear from you if this hits home.  Wishing you all a happy, delicious holiday season.

Please nod your head yes if you’ve ever felt put off by a relative during the holidays. Put both hands in the air, jump up and shout “hell yeah” if it makes you feel any better.

Much as we anticipate the holiday season, let’s face it. When you open the door and your mother grills you yet again, why don’t you ever wear make-up, comb your hair, keep the house neater…it’s been known to put a damper on holiday cheer. We love them, our relatives, of course we do. But how do we manage the negative emotions steaming in the chest sometimes when we are with them?  Thing is, the worry alone–about how to keep from losing it—our decorum, our very sense of self—in close quarters, in the company of relatives, takes up more than its fair share of headspace and physical energy.

Well, here’s some good news. Anticipating and being in the company of even your most difficult relatives doesn’t have to be so daunting. With the right tool at your disposal – let’s call it the Hip-Pocket Chill-Out Cheat Sheet, you can learn to manage your emotions with relatives anew –without losing your temper or dignity.

The warm-up for shifting family dynamics in a positive way is to recognize how you typically show up around relatives.

What’s Your Reflexive Response Style?

Do you try to please everyone? At your own expense, do you try to make nice with everyone, regardless of the effect on you?
Do you become reactive? Get sucked into someone else’s narrative and get resentful or angry?
Do you retreat? Feel powerless to show up as your authentic self in their company?
Do you resist acknowledging what is happening? Deny or minimize the degree of discomfort or dysfunction?
Are you determined to change others? Spending time and energy to get them to see your point or behave differently?

Consider: Which responses feel familiar?

Then: How is your default reflexive response working for you?
What would it do for you to choose a more positive way to engage instead?

The next step is to get intentional. Would you rather struggle through the way it’s always been or use new awareness to create a positive change?

Your Hip Pocket Chill-Out Cheat Sheet to Reduce Holiday Stress

It helps to bear in mind: Relationships develop over time, change is a process, and taking a small step is better than taking no step to improve a relationship or situation.

Here are some simple yet powerful tips that will help you to be yourself and be with them over the holidays.

ONE. Be honest.
Uncle Lou pushes your buttons. Don’t push it down or away. Don’t cling too tightly or take on his issue as your own. What he says reflects more about him than it does about you.

TWO. Set a positive intention in advance of your time together.
Something like I will know and spread peace. Or I will create a safe space for love to flourish. Connecting with a positive intention helps open new paths of engagement.

THREE. Acceptance.
There is no perfect family, no matter how other families look from the outside. Allow for what is, rather than expecting an ideal that cannot be.

FOUR. Gratitude.
Even though someone drives you to distraction, chances are there is still something to be grateful for about that person. They raised your spouse or partner, love your children, brought Grandma’s homemade stuffing for the family to enjoy. Find a kernel of gratitude and let it expand.

FIVE. Compassion and Forgiveness.
The way forward is love, not like. How can you see those around the holiday table through a filter of love? Forgiving imperfections in someone else helps you hold onto yours less tightly.

SIX. Small Steps.
What small step can you take to change things up? Maybe you limit time inside and step out for some air, set boundaries (or agree to make off-limits) what could be a divisive line of conversation (ie opposing political views), get curious, relax with a glass of wine (or two!), or something else –in the presence of difficult relatives.

SEVEN. Give and Receive.
Giving is important yet it’s not all about giving to others. Give yourself what you need to feel nourished and go into the situation feeling grounded. Allow yourself to receive.

So, now you have it—7 ways to infuse your holiday spirit with more joy and inner peace. And, hey, what do you know? These tips work for any time of year, so keep them in your hip pocket.

How will you equip yourself with difficult people and circumstances this holiday season? Tell us in the blog comments or send an email to [email protected] so we can all learn from one another.

Certified Executive Coach & Career Strategist

Gail Gaspar is a masterful doubt wrangler who is passionate about coaching successful career transformation with executives, entrepreneurs and consultants. An enthusiastic baker, Thanksgiving is her favorite holiday. Connect with her at