How’s everyone doing with the holiday planning? If you didn’t get a chance to download my holiday planning worksheet, click here. I’m feeling so much calmer now that everything’s on the calendar. I don’t have to worry about when or what I’m doing anymore, I just do it!
Today I wanted to address the other stressors that come with the holiday season – difficult family members, anniversaries of the passing of loved ones, being alone or without a spouse, food and alcohol cravings, stress and overwhelm, disappointment and regret, among others.
One of the ways we can deal with any of these challenges is to use the same tool we used to combat holiday overwhelm – planning. Like I have said in my previous posts, planning uses the prefrontal cortex, or our logical part of our brain, which can help us override emotional rollercoasters and process urges.
Planning to think, feel, and act the way we want to helps us become empowered no matter what the situation!
You can plan not only when to drink alcohol and eat sweets, but you can plan for what you will do and think when you inevitably get the urge to do those things when it’s not on the calendar.
You can plan what thoughts you want think when that difficult family member starts in on the political rant, criticizes your parenting, or starts arguing with their spouse in front of you.
You can plan what boundaries and expectations you want to have for your family, and plan how to inform them of those boundaries. Then, you can then plan what you will say and do when someone violates those boundaries or doesn’t meet your expectations.
You can plan how you want to think and feel about ANY challenging situation, and decide in advance how you want your experience of the holidays will be.
The good news is that YOU are in charge of how your holiday goes, NO MATTER WHAT ANYONE ELSE SAYS OR DOES.
How other people think and act is not in your power. You can only control what you think, say, feel, and do, And that is so freeing. You don’t have to be at the mercy of people around you to do what you want them to do to feel good and peaceful.
Here’s how to plan to coach yourself through future difficult situations:
- Challenge: Brainstorm what issues or challenges might arise for you during the holidays. Here are some possible categories: difficult people, food and drink, tough memories the holidays bring up, activities or travel.
- Your thoughts and feelings: When you have a list of challenges that may arise, list all the thoughts and feelings that come up about those challenges.
- New thought: Next, plan to expect that those thoughts will come up, and decide that it is not a problem. Then, create a new thought or thoughts that you can redirect your brain to go to when those negative thoughts and feelings arise.
- Reaction: Plan how you will react when those difficult moments arise. Will you just remove yourself from the situation? Express your feelings? Coach yourself to a new thought and not react? Process the feeling and move to a new thought?
- Challenge: My dad passed away right after Thanksgiving a few years back and I usually feel sad, anxious and on edge more than normal during the holidays.
- My current thoughts: I don’t want to feel sad, everything is frustrating, I miss him, what if I die soon?. My feelings: fear, sadness, anxiety, stress, frustration.
- New thoughts: “Of course I’m sad and anxious, it’s ok and human. I can handle these feelings and process them. Nothing has gone wrong here. I am grateful to be with my family right now.”
- Reaction: When I feel sad or anxious, my plan is to process the feelings, take a break and cry if I need to, be kind to myself, and redirect to my new thoughts once I have processed these feelings.
- Challenge: I am craving sweets on a day that wasn’t a planned day to eat sweets.
- My current thoughts: I’m going to miss out on feeling enjoyment by eating this sweet. I just really want it, what’s the big deal? Everyone else is eating sweets.
- New thoughts: I will be disappointed if I eat the sweet and I will be disappointed if I don’t, so I will commit to my long term goal and just be disappointed by not eating the sweet. No one ever regrets NOT eating dessert. I can handle the urge, it’s just a feeling.
- Reaction: When I feel a craving, I acknowledge the urge as a FEELING. So I process it like I would any other feeling. I don’t resist or avoid the feeling, I just feel it and lean into it. Urges go away quicker that way. If you don’t resist or give in to the urge, your brain will let it go. When we don’t give in to urges and plan instead when to eat sweets, our brain stops trying to get us to eat sweets.
This is a really empowering exercise and one I highly recommend doing, if not for every stressor you may encounter, but for the big ones. Here’s to a peaceful, joyful holiday!