by Jeffrey Levine

The holidays are the time of year when we’re presented with a myriad of “trigger-tunities” – people, situations, stress, memories – that trigger our emotions.

Often these are unpleasant emotions. Stress. Memories from arguments or slights from the past. PTSD.

Personal, political and cultural differences, and the conversations that surround them, often lead to more heartburn than the meals themselves.

So I’d like to offer a few strategies for navigating these tricky times.

1. Have a plan or objective for yourself.

Something like: “My intention is to be patient and kind”, or “My goal is to remain curious, no matter where the conversation goes.” When you take a few minutes to consider how you want to show up, you have a much better chance of sticking to it, and lowering your stress.

2. Prepare phrases.

Chances are, you’ve experienced some of the same painful conversations or family drama in the past. Review those experiences and write down some ideas about how you can respond…considering your intention from #1 above. These may include diverting the conversation, setting limits, or even removing yourself from the conversation. Some suggestions: “I’m not feeling like talking about that now. How about we…”, or “Hmmm, interesting. Let me think about that.” Or even, “It’s great seeing you, Uncle Bob. Let’s spend this evening enjoying each other’s company.” Avoid the snark or defending. And then breathe.

3. Debate mindfully.

Sometimes, speaking up is what is needed. In those cases, talk about what’s true for you, and avoid name-calling, diagnosing and blaming. Something like “I’m really uncomfortable with what I’m hearing. I’m very concerned about the environment and the direction the earth is heading.” In other words, talk about yourself and express yourself authentically…leave them out of it.

4. Be realistic about what is possible.

While lively debate and critical conversations can be valuable, holiday gatherings are not usually the best places for meaningful exchanges. If your goal is to change someone’s mind, you’re like to feel frustrated, disappointed and angry. You’re unlikely to change your grandmother’s mind about immigration over the cranberry sauce. But if you’re able to avoid the harmful language and remain open to listening and sharing, you might deepen your relationship with her.

Our ability to have meaningful connection with others over the holidays will help us tap into what the holidays really have to offer.

Happy holidays!

From Erin at LoveRomanceRelationship: Jeffrey Levine is a corporate coach and trained mediator who works with both men and women to improve their communication, deepen their connection and remove the blocks that keep them from feeling and expressing love. He is the author of The Good Husband Guide which contains invaluable advice for avoiding common relationship pitfalls.

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