4 Meditations for Managing Holiday Family Stress
Do you watch the show The Americans?
It’s my latest TV obsession with Joe. (It’s so good!) We’ve been staying up way too late burning through episode after episode every night. Getting up for work the next morning hasn’t always been fun, but… generally worth it.
One of our favorite parts of the show is seeing all of Elizabeth and Philip’s disguises.
They’re unreal. We’re in the fourth season now and we still can’t get over not just how many disguises there are, but how distinct and convincing each one is.
(Well, most of them. Can’t say I was a huge fan of the Johnny Ramone look, but hey.)
Each one comes with distinctly different mannerisms, personality traits, temperaments… even a slightly different speaking voice.
While it's probably safe to assume (or is it?) that most of us aren’t Russian spies with closets full of wigs, who change our names and play different characters... the show has gotten me thinking about the ways we do play up different traits, roles, and even personas in our everyday lives.
We all play different versions of ourselves all day long, depending on the setting and/or the relationship.
I know I’m a slightly different Michelle at work than I am at home with my husband (!! still not used to casually tossing around the new ‘H’ word), than I am with just my parents, than I am with each of my best friends. It’s not conscious or intentional, it just happens.
I bet you could name at least a handful of distinct versions of yourself you move in and out of, too. Maybe without even noticing.
Some might even feel like they contradict each other.
Mom. Daughter. Partner.
The first to chime in with a hilarious comment, and crack up your friends.
Agreeable team player.
Obstacle spotter extraordinaire.
Decision maker, in a group full of "oh I don't care, you choose"-ers.
Social justice advocate, who just isn't willing to let that offensive comment from Uncle Fred slide.
Different people, places, and things call on different parts of our personalities to show up. I think of it as less ‘Russian spy’ and more ‘social chameleon.’
But some roles are easier to play than others. And bouncing between them can be taxing, especially when the role you’re trying to step into feels forced.
There's nothing like a Thanksgiving table full of people who push your buttons to compound that feeling.
The holidays can be wonderful, AND they can be really, really hard — especially if there are uncomfortable roles we feel we have to play.
Extended time with extended family can bring out parts of ourselves we don’t love, or put us in situations where the way we ‘should’ act feels like we’re playing a role we didn’t sign up for.
Maybe there's a massive elephant in the room you have to dance around. Maybe you have to put on your polite face to mask your irritation.
You might feel weirdly responsible for your crazy cousin's political rants and how uncomfortable he makes your parents. You might anticipate conflict, and feel the need to take on the role of Tension Diffuser – when really, you’d rather just hide somewhere upstairs until everyone goes to bed.
I’ve been there! And it’s hard to manage that stress.
But there are some simple reminders that can help keep your anxiety at bay, even when you’re navigating tricky waters with family.
Below are a few of my favorite meditations from a book that was recommended to me a while back, called The Language of Letting Go. They helped me get through a season when tensions were high, and I was so busy trying to take care of everyone else’s feelings that I’d forgotten how to tend to my own.
You may or may not decide to use them as literal ‘meditations,’ but it might be helpful to sit with or chew on one as you enter a potentially stressful season. I hope they help you, too.
ON FAMILY BUTTONS:
"Today, I will start practicing self-care with family members. I know that I do not have to allow their issues to control my life, my day, or my feelings. I know that it’s ok to have all my feelings about family members, without guilt or shame."
ON CONFLICT AND DETACHMENT:
“Today, I will remember that my best relationships have low points. If the low point is the norm, I may want to consider the desirability of the relationship. If the low point is a temporary cycle, I will practice understanding for myself and the other person.”
“I can let go of things and people and my need to control today. I can deal with my feelings. I can get calm... I will remember that a gray day is just that – one gray day.”
ON WANTING TO FEEL LIKED
“Today, I will let go of my need for approval and my need to be liked. I will replace them with a need to like and approve of myself. I will enjoy the surprise I find when I do this. The people who count, including myself, will respect me when I am true to myself.”
A JOURNAL PROMPT TO DIG DEEPER
If one of these jumped out at you – even if you aren't sure why! – grab a pen and paper, and gently see if you can dig into it a bit.
Choose one of the meditations above, write it at the top of a page, and just close your eyes and sit with it for a second. What’s your response? Do you immediately have objections? Do you feel relieved? Encouraged? Anxious?
Let it out, and do your best not to self-censor. I’d really encourage you to give yourself permission to release whatever thoughts come up. Write until you’re done, and trust that you’ll know when that is.
How do you manage family stress around the holidays?
Do you have any favorite mantras, meditations, or other techniques you use? Whatever works for you, the best gift you can give yourself this season is the space and the permission to feel your feelings and work through them gently, without guilt or shame.