Home for the Holidays?

Most people place a great deal of significance and meaning on the holidays.  Others try to ignore them completely. Please take a moment to read about and then pay attention to some of the challenges and opportunities of the holidays.  In spite of old family dynamics, it is an opportunity for love and relationship with our friends, families and communities. 



Food can be a place to hide from unspoken thoughts and feelings. There are all kinds of sweets and salty goodies lying around just waiting to be inhaled.  As you are eating, notice what you are eating for: to make up for the lack of love in your life or the scary room you are currently in? Are your putting off the inevitable awkward conversation with Aunt Helen or weird Uncle Bob?  Is it to numb out from your problems or challenges and how to talk about them? To entertain or distract yourself so you don’t scream at your family? Is it because you are bored? Is it because you are tired from travel or cooking for three days? Maybe it is to hide your loneliness amongst this large group of people? Eat when you are hungry and just simply say no and walk away when you are not. Eat one or two yummy-dummy-gum-drops, not the whole bowl. If you eat your feelings by stuffing yourself with food, you start a cycle that is difficult to break (remember last year?).  Food is fuel. You wouldn’t stand there at the gas station as gas poured onto the ground, so when you are full, stop.  And manage the peer pressure to eat and drink ‘just like them.’  If you have special needs, let the host know far in advance and consider bringing something to take care of yourself.



Time is experienced as either too much (loneliness, despair, boredom, lack of love) or not enough (busy, overwhelmed, harried, nervous, stress for yourself or those around you). Taking time for your self is seen as selfish.  This is a time for you to be for others 24-7, right? Retreating is seen as impolite. They are enduring it, why can’t you? It is critical that you manage your time and how you spend it. People’s expectations are not your concern. Make and keep time agreements with people. Don’t be afraid to call and change appointments if it does not work for you. Notice if you are over-scheduling. Ask for help and support from those around you. There is no need for you to be an army of one. If you are getting tired, stop and rest. If you are feeling overwhelmed, say so, then stop and rest.  Delegate. Play team. Take naps.  Even if you just close your eyes for 20 minutes, it makes a difference.  This will help you manage your reactivity around historical relationships, conversations and people.



Family has known you a long time.  Just because you have achieved X, Y, or Z in your life doesn’t mean they have forgotten what you did to them or that silly nickname of yours. Or perhaps you have not accomplished what you meant to that others in your family have. This can lead to spoken and unspoken judging and assessing. It is easy to resort to control, old habits and protective behaviors in the face of ancient family dynamics. You can minimize these conversations by simply changing the subject or taking a walk to the next room.  And whose to say you have to spend 24 hours a day with your family over the holidays?  Why stay with them if you know you only have tolerance for 2-4 hours (or one hour!) at a time? If it works for you to be with your family through the whole time you are there, then fine. But if not, design something that will work for you, your spouse and your family. It won’t make you popular, but it will set a healthy example for the other members of your family.  In the end, you can enjoy the people in your family. The only question is at what distance and for how long? Manage that.  If you do it this year, they may talk about it all year, but they will expect it next time. 



History is mostly what we have with family. We spent a lot of time with them a long time ago. There is an intimate bond we have with each other.  The challenge is catching our relationship up in the short time we have together over the holidays. So, if they changed, then you should have changed too, right? My life can’t be too good or it will threaten others. I can’t have too many problems. I have to be just so. Is Dad going to be like he used to be with me? Will Mom treat me like a child again? There are all sorts of conversations that haven’t been had (good, bad and ugly) and we are going to catch up on all of them in a few days? That seems like a set-up for disappointment and upset. Laugh about your history or redirect the conversation. Or get up and take a walk. You cannot control other people but you can manage your own thoughts, feelings and body. Do that and watch your stress level go down.



Injury is a common occurrence during the holidays. People are distracted and not present. They are in surroundings or weather conditions they are not familiar with. This makes you ripe for a fall. The injury may be an emotional one. Be careful about who you expose yourself to and for long. If you see someone being reckless, remind him or her to slow down. If someone does get hurt, go to his or her aid. Even if you are clear that they got hurt to be the center of attention. Travel slowly. Look for potholes. Watch for sharp corners that you might snag yourself on (like Aunt Matilda or Uncle Fred). Actually, getting hurt is a great metaphor for the inner pain many people feel around the holidays. Share your stuff with someone before get hurt.  Set up signals with a partner or friend to come to your aid.  Remember, suffering is optional. 



Illness is common. People have run themselves ragged trying to get everything right and perfect (again) and leave themselves open for sickness.  Take great care of yourself. Wash your hands a lot (your mother was right).  If you get sick, do what animals do in the wild when they get sick and LAY DOWN. You’ll be surprised at what gets accomplished without a super hero in the room.  The person who is trying to be the super hero is rarely satisfied and often comes down with something in the end.



We manufacture all the pressure/stress we experience. We can be carefree and effortless when we choose to be. Notice when you get pressured or feel stress and simply stop where you are. Go no further. Take a breath and ask yourself what would serve you best in this moment? And then do that. It is simple and requires a commitment to managing yourself, instead of suffering or surviving the circumstances, others and your surroundings. You choose to allow stress. This let’s me know that you can choose to not allow stress.  Watch out for expectations.  There are lots of people wanting, needing and expecting.  You don’t have to try to meet all their needs.  Notice people who are insatiable, selfish or committed to complaining or being a victim (again?).  These folks need an audience for this behavior.  You get to choose if you are going to be that for them or not. 



Expectations of self and others are rampant. It is on the TV and the radio. It is in the catalogs that clog your mailbox. This should be the holiday you never had. This ought to be when everyone loves and appreciates you. There is no faster route to a problem than to have expectations and then not communicate them. So, let people know what you expect. And then ask them what they expect from you. And then, just before you leave, check in again and see if everyone got his or her expectations met. If not, you probably got a lot of them met by being straight and responsible. You also set a great example for next year.  Your expectations are your responsibility. And that means…



Travel is grim, based on the expressions on people’s faces at the airport.  Everyone is pressing forward to get to a place they would rather be than where they currently are. Or maybe they are dreading getting to a place they would rather not be. What if we traveled slowly to our destination and enjoyed the people around us and the journey? What if we said please and thank you and helped other people on their journey? What if we stopped and enjoyed the view? What if we packed and ate healthy food along the way and drank lots of water? Take care to not miss the value of our ability to travel long distances at speed. It is actually quite amazing when you think about it.  And you can stay on your healthy program in spite of all the temptations around.  If you fall off, just recommit on the way home or when you wake up the next day.  Take it easy on yourself as you travel.  The road is challenging.  Ask any rock star.



Gifts have lost much of their meaning. We do so much comparing that it is a challenge to give a gift and then be with the process of the person opening our gift, enjoying our gift and then thanking us for our gift. If you are wondering what to get people, remember everyone loves love. Write people a love letter from your heart to theirs. They will remember it and cherish it long after the battery-powered sweater has died and rusted in a corner. Remember, no matter how big or small, it really is the thought that signals your love and that is what counts.



Gorge and/or starve are the places that most people find themselves over the holiday. Some creative people do both (first I will starve and then I will gorge). Every year we eat too much and feel bad about ourselves. “But it was all just laying there for me to eat. I can’t pass it up,” we think. Or we starve ourselves in the face of all the abundant food and nourishment. What about having a balanced and sustainable relationship to food at the holidays?  It is worth practicing, don’t you think? Take what you need. Eat till you are full. Get up and walk away. Wait for dessert. Have seconds if you feel like it after checking in with yourself. “Is that enough? What hole am I trying to fill with all this food?” Be gentle, kind and slow in this area.  So many of us are hungry or starving for something and trying to get the needs met through food or drink.



Holiday traditions are a great way to share community with others. And people have a tendency to resist these if they have not chosen them in the past. Or they may have tolerated something for years and they are simply sick of the ‘life-size gingerbread pony decorating day’ that happens in Uncle Williams frozen back yard each year. Pick and choose what you participate in. Healthy boundaries are good for you and others. If you have not participated in a ritual, try it out (I try an olive each year to discover if I finally like them and so far I don’t). Dance with people and the rituals surrounding the holidays. Be a “yes” for some and a “no” for others. There is no perfect holiday other than the one you choose, create and experience.  Have fun exploring holiday traditions.



Shopping can be deadly to your mood and your bank account. Most people want you to give them a gift if you want to give one you can afford. No one is sitting at home wondering why he or she didn’t get something from you. Be conscious when you are shopping of the seductive nature of shiny things. They cannot make up for the love or closeness you don’t have with someone. Only your gaze or touch or words or deeds will truly do that. Buy gifts if you like. Don’t buy gifts because you should or have to or because you are afraid that I might get you something and you might be embarrassed. Your loving presence and the appreciation of our relationship is the greatest gift you can give. 



You cannot control peoples intake of any of these things.  And if you try, everyone has to take sides or hang out in an uncomfortable situation.  You can make requests before and during events (if you could wait until we start dinner to enjoy a drink that would be so nice).  These activities are used by many people as coping behaviors.  And the holidays are ripe with opportunities for coping.  Manage your own intake.  Pace yourself.  You can ask people to slow down their intake.  You can ask them to take it outside or to another room.  You can get help from another person to manage someone you don’t want to.  You don’t have to expose yourself to inappropriate behavior for the whole day.  You can manage the contact you and your family have with this person.  It feels a little like juggling, but it is worth it in the long run. Don’t subject yourself to dysfunction in a polite way.  But don’t turn the event into an intervention that holds people hostage.  If you have concerns, express them in private.  It will not change the behavior, but it will be a nudge in the right direction.  Lastly, feel free to have people follow your rules if you are hosting (we don’t’ smoke inside, we have a three drink minimum, we have all our friends wait an hour before driving, etc.)



In closing, the holidays are meant to be times of closeness, joy and celebration. If it isn’t that way for you, then start designing and living into a holiday of your choice. Don’t go because you have to or everyone will talk about you if you don’t. Be an adult and make powerful choices and deal with the consequences. Imagine the peace and serenity you might have. Be careful about being victimized by your family, our culture, or the media.  You have a choice about how you feel, where you go and what you do.  Remember your secret weapon is getting up and taking a walk outside.  Make a phone call and get support if you need to.  Enjoy your people and the opportunity of the holidays. 


Happy Tofu-Turkey day to all!


Hans Phillips