Finding sunshine in a cloudy life - Mental Health

How to make holiday get-togethers more fun with less drama

‘Tis the season for holiday parties! Eggnog, ugly sweaters, and white elephant gifts abound.  Some people absolutely thrive on hosting and attending parties.  If this is you, rock on!  Let those good times roll.  Others are introverts – those who would rather go jogging in a cold rain than spend time with people who haven’t made the short list of beings who don’t drain their energy. While most of us fall somewhere between these extremes, it is important for each of us to stay aware of how we are feeling about our social calendar. If anxiety looms, read on.

Whether you are hosting a party or are showing up as a guest, you can relieve a lot of anxiety by letting go of the idea that it has to be perfect.  Christmas trees lean, gifts are duplicated, not everyone loves fruitcake, and kids say the darndest things. Most of all, get rid of any idea that what you are, do, say, earn, or wear is not good enough.  Good enough is an illusion and if people are judging, that is a character weakness of theirs, and nothing to do with your worth.

As I’ve mentioned previously, having good relationships is a major indicator of longevity and happiness.  As the holiday season is a traditional time to get together with friends, families, and co-workers, it is a ready-made opportunity to build those connections.  It even offers the perfect reason to rekindle those relationships that may have been neglected due to the demands of our busy lifestyles.  Not all connections are created equal, however, and it is wise to consider each gathering on its own merits, and all the potential impacts of participation.

This might be a controversial bit of advice, but at least read through and consider it. Whenever possible, don’t attend an event that is not going to add to the joy of the season.  Please notice the key words in the above sentence. I’ll repeat with emphasis. Whenever possible, don’t attend an event that is not going to add to the joy of the season.  All you introverts in the crowd, this is not a free pass to decline all invitations, hole up in your bedroom, and pretend your friends, families, co-workers, and any other category of human being simply don’t exist.  Even for introverts, real life connection with people who care about you makes life better.  Instead, it is an invitation to determine which gatherings are going to take a real toll on your emotional well-being and make the radical decision to put your mental health first by not going.

It would be unreasonable to suggest that this is easy or even realistic in some cases, but it is possible more often than you might originally think.  Perhaps you can plan to make your family visits another time of year when things are less hectic and everyone will be more relaxed and enjoy the time more.  Sometimes it is easier and more enjoyable to visit family members individually or in smaller groups than at the massive gathering of all your uncles, aunts, cousins, in-laws, and all of their parents and progeny.  If these festivities stress you out more than giving you a sense of belonging, seek out a more intimate gathering.  This goes for neighborhood parties as well.  Make plans with the neighbors who are near and dear to you and send your regrets to the planning committee of the big shindig.

For those events you cannot avoid or delay but are not expecting to be merry and bright (I’m looking in the direction of office parties here), forethought is key. If you have a professional engagement, consider ahead how much time you plan to spend there. If necessary, inform those who need to know how much time you are able to spend at the party.  Feel free to give them reasons if you feel it’s appropriate, but remember that lowering your stress by limiting social engagements is a valid reason. Sure, you might be the first one to leave, but don’t be surprised if a flock of people follow you, relieved for the opportunity to make their break as well.

Family get-togethers come with an entirely different set of issues to consider.  You may even enjoy them overall, and can’t wait to see your grandmother, cousins, or your brother and his new puppy, but there could be something dimming your feelings of joyful anticipation. Say, for example, you are worrying about your opinionated great-aunt making a scene because you’re STILL single and have a pet fainting goat who you love like family.

^^^ short video of some festive fainting goats^^

If you’re single, have pet fainting goat, and a great-aunt who disapproves of such things, this could easily stress you out.  Can you change your aunt?  Nope.  Can you run out and get married?  Possibly, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that’s not your best option.  We already know your goat, Nanny, is staying. So, what can you control?

Everything that happens next hinges on your RESPONSE.  Remember, our goal here is to have an enjoyable, drama-free experience. A snappy rejoinder might feel good in the moment (you’re probably familiar with the memes where one retorts by asking how her ugly divorce is going) but this will neither decrease the drama nor add to the overall joy of the party.  It won’t even make you feel better in the long run.  Being mean hurts you at least as much as it hurts others. Instead, take a breath, just a moment, to step out of reaction-mode and into decision mode.  Decide how you will act in this moment.  Sometimes, responding with calm silence is all that’s needed for your verbal assailant to realize they’re out of line. Another tack is to thank them for their concern and interest in your life, and assure them you are happy and well.  This can disarm someone whose goal is to stir up drama, and might well defuse an explosive situation.

I was all prepared to go into a lengthy but tangential paragraph about how the martial art aikido teaches you how to transform and redirect the energy of an attack. While looking for an accurate description of this, however, I found a beautifully written article by author, life coach, and doctor of sociology, Martha Beck.  Though she speaks in terms of karate rather than aikido, Dr. Beck very eloquently explains this technique as well as a few other methods of dealing with verbal attack.  If you are anticipating the need to deal with bullying or outright abuse, I highly recommend you read this short article.

Regardless of how you choose to respond to a potential spot of unpleasantness, remember to enjoy what you can enjoy, don’t light any fires of your own, and don’t dwell on the less than stellar moments.  What you focus your attention on matters.  Be sure to focus it on every wonderful, beautiful, happy thing you notice.  While you’re at it, share that bit of beauty with everyone you can.

Brightest blessings, Sunny

YouTube video posted by Jessi Pottebaum, and can be viewed at your leisure here.

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