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Controlling Stress & Toxic Relationships

7 Simple Self-Care Suggestions for Surviving the Holidays

by Deah Curry, PhD


Although our culture considers the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s a most important holiday season, it’s sad but true that this is often a very stressful time in families and close friendships. Depressions deepen, anxieties rise, and aggressions and frustrations get unleashed, causing serious emotional pain. It can’t all be blamed on global warming, nor on seasonal affective disorder. It can’t even be blamed on the commercialization of the sacred days, even though that contributes more than we realize. Stress has just become an accepted part of the season.

Some stress is predictable. We’re spending more money than is sensible on gifts for people we may not even like. We’re fighting shopping crowds and endless traffic, and waiting in interminable lines at the post office. We feel pressured to attend social functions that drain our energy, where we over-eat and over-drink to the level of feeling miserable. And we call this holiday cheer??

We need to re-frame our relationship to this time of year. For those who long to celebrate the holidays in the true spirit of the season, here are some ideas for gracefully creating a stress-free inner climate of peace and good will.

Taking Control of Personal Stressors

1. Take Even Better Care of Yourself Than Usual. Whether it’s saying no more often, or setting a ceiling on spending and other indulgences, pay attention to how you use your energy. Resist using it out of guilt. Do only what your heart and spirit are really joyful about doing. Stop when the bright sparkle of joy begins to wane. Know your limits and live within them. When we are in periods of predictable stress, it’s more important than ever to maintain daily health routines. Getting the rest, nutrition, exercise, and hydration the body needs strengthens our ability to tolerate the many small irritants we face.

2. Believe in Your Essential Goodness. Many people are driven to take on more stress than necessary out of an erroneous belief that if they don’t they will be seen as bad, flawed, uncaring, or mean. Allowing guilt, fear or anticipation of others’ disapproval to dictate how we use our energy is an act of giving in to a tyrrany of toxic assumptions and dysfunctional expectations. If you are caught in this trap, start telling yourself that you are a good, kind, and caring person, and that doesn’t change if you decline an invitation, or refrain from sending obligatory gifts and cards.

3. Redefine, Reschedule, Resist, and Renew. Stress can be managed by redefining priorities, rescheduling anything that doesn’t have a critical deadline, resisting the impulse to "fix" others, and saving yourself enough time and resources for personal renewal. Efficient task-combining trips increase resilience while lowering exposure to frustration. Just don’t try to do too much multi-tasking or that itself can lead to burnout.

4. Give in a Meaningful Way. The commercialized holiday scene pressures us into thinking we must buy, buy, buy to appropriately give, give, give, regardless of the situation. But mindlessness only serves meaninglessness, and leaves us feeling empty, dissatisfied, lonely, stressed out, or worse. Even though it may require precious time and energy, finding a meaningful way to give to others can not only make an important difference in their lives, but will also connect you to the psychospiritual meanings of the season — the universally hoped for return of enLightenment, and peace to the world.

Ending Toxic Relationships

Another area where we may find ourselves giving away our power is in toxic relationships. A toxic relationship is one in which you are continually emotionally abused, feel unsafe or discouraged in being fully authentic, or are disempowered and left unable to get your needs met. Attacks of criticism and ridicule that come out of the blue are difficult to defend against in effective ways, much less in a loving manner. But hiding who you are in order to not be a target in social settings sends stress through the roof.

Toxic relationships do not have to be endured, no matter who they are with. We don’t have to put up with cruel, sarcastic, disapproving, abusive behavior to keep the peace. I urge those of you who are suffering such relationships to give to yourself the gift of severing ties with such people, if not permanently, then especially during the holiday season. Here are a few ways to do that:

1. Decline to attend family gatherings that include abusive, critical, or shaming relatives. Be clear, explicit and firm about your limits. You do not owe anyone an explanation for choosing to keep healthy boundaries. Tell them you already have plans, or say "I can come to dinner only on Tuesday, and will need to leave by 9 pm." Keeping your own boundaries puts more control in your hands, and lowers stress levels, especially with those "friends" and relatives who won’t take "no" for an answer.

2. Start stress-free traditions with friends, co-workers, neighbors or others who are not toxic. Traditions are just culturally laden habits that segments of society or family groups practice together. Plan get togethers with your chosen family and decide with them what is meaningful and celebratory.

3. Take a holiday break; celebrate alone. When your world is crowded with toxic relationships, sometimes the best thing is to withdraw from all of them. Spend the time exploring your own soul, nurturing your own spirit, dancing to your own drumbeat. Tune in to the natural world, journal, create, take a trip. Follow your own quest for meaning and be really conscious about what and why you are celebrating.

Controlling stress and toxic relationships at any time of year requires forethought, effort, and perhaps a bit of courage. The key is to let others own their own feelings about your need to take care of yourself, and for you to be mindful about how you manage your energy. By following these seven simple self-care suggestions you can truly have a happy holiday.

Get free tips for a Stress-Less Holiday Season for Singles, on my website www. Emotional FirstAid-Coaching.com. If you need more tooks and techniques for dealing with difficult people and stressful situations, or help in surviving the toxic relationships in your life this holiday season, see my website: www.InnerJourneyWork.com For more information, appointments, and office location in Kirkland WA, call me at 425-814-9083 or send email to DrDeah@ deahcurry.net


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