stress less and find more peace, manage stress

Stress Less -for the holidays and anytime

Wish it were automatic to stress less and still enjoy the season?

Maybe that feels like a tall, ridiculous order. It might seem that you’re either ALL in for the holidays or taking a complete vacation from them altogether.

Most people want something in the middle. They want less stress and more enjoyment, more meaning, and more peace.

Let’s get you that.

Identify the Biggest Stressor

Is it travel to four different places? Maybe you especially stress about that ONE event. Feeling overwhelmed by obligations? Is it pressure you put on yourself to produce a Martha Stewart scene? Is it that you two seem to get into so many more arguments this time of year and you’d love to side-step it this year?Pick out the biggest one for you.

And yes, it’s personal, specific to you. Your spouse does not have to agree that this it THE THING. What stresses you may be the most important thing for her (or him) or for the kids… but we’re not talking about that right now. (Are you stressed because you’re alone? Here’s some help for that: read HERE or HERE.) We’re talking about what is MOST stressful for you. Identify that.

Having trouble identifying it?

Ask these questions to tease it out more effectively:

  • What one thing, if it disappeared today, would have me sighing with relief?
  • If I had to miss one part of the holiday, what would I skip out on with NO regrets?
  • Fantasize the perfect imaginary holiday. It looks like… (go ahead and get really specific and write it down.)

Don’t spend time evaluating this either. Don’t listen to the guilters or the naysayers even if they come from your own brain! It’s not time to judge your stress. If it’s stressful, it’s stressful. we’re going to solvee that. Next…

1. What’s the ONE CHANGE that will minimize that Stress?

You are looking for a rule, guideline, or principle you can adopt that keeps that stressor at bay.

Here’s an example:

For me, it’s shopping. I refuse to do any last minute shopping. And last minute for me means anything after I am on holiday break from work. That means if it’s not done before December 20, too bad, baby.

That one guideline eliminates 80% of the stress for me.

There may be part of this “area” you like.

Keep that.

Look, I am not a shopper. Never have been, never will be. (In fact I DREAM of having a personal shopper to whom I can say, replace these, I need that, I’m looking for this particular thing…and not spend one second of my time finding it!)

But I DO enjoy stuffing those stockings with quirky, unique, thoughtful, fun surprises.

I shop end-caps, kiosks, dollar aisles, clearance bins, and specialty shops…before December 20th… to thoughtfully purchase little gifties for ALL my lovies.

If there’s some part of the greatest stressor you DO like, keep it.

There may be related, smaller stressors

Eliminate these right alongside the other.

For instance, I also keep my gift wrapping simple anymore.

I did not always. I actually glued beads to wrapping paper, wove folded paper strips into gorgeous art before folding it over gifts, hand-stamped my paper, made my very own bows. Heck, we had seven trees one year, each with their own theme. I was a crazy person, tipsy with useless ideas.

I don’t do that anymore. Thankfully. It went bye-bye forever right along with all the pressure for more shopping right up to the minute.

It’s your stress.

It’s no one else’s stress. They don’t have to agree with you or find the same thing stressful.

Many years ago, on several Christmas Eve days I was shopping at the Mall of America with my ex-husband. That was super stressful for me. Was it fun for him? I actually think, yes, it was. (Go figure!) 

But I’m a grown-up. So are you. I own my stress.

I do not like to shop. Shopping on Christmas Eve or anytime but especially when  I am supposed to be resting from my labors is no longer acceptable. So I don’t do it.

2. Find the deeper reason

Spend a little time reflecting. Do you know what that drive behind the stressor really is? Why haven’t you abandoned it before now?

Could it be obligation or guilt or people pleasing, trying to be good enough, buy love, keep up appearances, or with the Joneses, or make up for something, disguise some lack?

I bet if you dig deep, you know what this is really about.

I certainly know what was driving me. Letting it go was key to my health. And that’s the next step.

3. Let it go.

Look, you are a grown-up. It’s about time those subconscious drives from forever-ago stopped running the show. You get to do what you want with all that baggage.

And if it’s not serving you, let it go. Breathe in, say you’re letting it go and then expel it with your exhale. You don’t gotta. Anymore. So don’t.

Just let it go.

You’re not a bad mate or parent, sibling, or child. You are all grown-up and if it’s not adding to your life, just don’t do it. Let it go.

I know that can be harder to DO than to want to do.

For some of you, it’ll be easy. Just reading through this has given you clarity and been a great reminder. You actually will follow through, change things up, and have a different experience this year.

But all of us could use a little help and support to make that change.

That’s what I’m here for

Let me help. I walk people through this all the time. I’m here for you if you need me. Give a call or send a message. Let’s get started on your best holiday season ever.

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boundaries between people

Good Boundaries – at holiday time and always

When facing time with family, good boundaries will serve you well.

But first, let’s be clear: good boundaries are not “I just can’t take it ANY.MORE!” limits. They’re not demands you hope others will fulfill. They are not cold, hard brick walls.

Good boundaries are more like standards you have that keep YOU peaceful, safe, and at least relatively content.

Good Boundaries in action

Here’s an example: I have a standard that I don’t get yelled at. If, at any time, someone were to start yelling AT me, I would remove myself. Right away.

I don’t yell back and usually I don’t reiterate my standard unless I do it with super-low, measured energy. I just go away from it. Or get off the phone. I leave the room or ask the other person to leave- in that same measured, low-level energy.

I don’t do yelling matches. Period. About anything. Ever.

Those days are gone.

Because I now have standards about what I will and will not have in my life. And yelling AT me is one thing I will not have in my life.

Here’s a thing to remember:

You set a boundary, you get to keep it

Having a boundary and setting it is NOT about the other person, it’s about you. If you set a boundary, then it’s yours. You are the one who gets to tend and maintain the boundary.

You only get to control yourself.

Don’t try to use “boundaries” to control other people. That will never work. Those are actually demands. Those types of boundaries can be manipulative, plus they’re kind of screechy, shrill, and above all, ineffective. (More about this everywhere I’ve written about communication: HERE and HERE. You can check out the podcast episode HERE or search for episode 7 of Midlife Love Bytes anywhere you find your podcasts.)

Don’t be surprised when others push them or cross your good boundary.

They’re new. Like a dog and an electric fence, people need to discover and learn from the boundary. Of course they’re going to get tested.

Don’t get upset when YOUR boundary gets tested.

There’s no need to go to war over them. If the boundary or standard is not negotiable (that is the nature of real boundaries and standards- they are not negotiable) then don’t stand there and negotiate the boundary.

Yes, you can explain your boundary

But do this at a time when it’s not being tested, pushed, or crossed. You can say something like “hey, just so you know, I don’t stay engaged when people yell at me. It doesn’t work for me. I don’t like it. I feel bad and I just don’t tolerate it.”

End of talking. You don’t have to defend the boundary. Or unearth it’s family of origin or ex-spouse origin. If it’s a boundary and it’s your boundary and you mean to live by it, then you don’t really need to explain it or justify it or talk it to death.

That someone understands where the boundary comes from or how it came to be a boundary for you is way less important that YOU having it, being clear on it, and knowing that it’s YOUR boundary.

Assertiveness is different than aggression

Assertiveness comes from a place of strength; aggression comes from an attempt to get more of it. In other words, aggression is a reaction because of lack while assertiveness is just an assertion of that strength.

Assertiveness does not lord it over someone else or tell them what to do. Assertiveness puts the truth out there and then follows up when necessary.

Apply your good standards and boundaries

Heading into the holidays, identify a thing you know you won’t tolerate. Then make a plan for how you will respond to it. Then do it.

That’s all there is to it.

Don’t want to be around your drunk uncle? Make a plan to leave when that threshold gets crossed.

Don’t want to be compared to your brother? Leave the conversation if that happens. Go to a different room.

Tired of the girls doing all the work while the guys watch football? Ask for help. Use Clean, Non-Blaming Communication (TM) or (CNBC). “I feel frustrated. I don’t want to do all the work and clean-up. Can you help with that?” Or assert it as a standard: “I feel miffed. I want to watch football and take a nap.” Then go do it. 😉

Hard to imagine the last scenario?

It could be that’s not an area for a boundary.

Sure, it’s something you feel piqued about and you’ve grown bitter about over years and years and years.

Could be, asserting a boundary about that one is really about changing things up way ahead of the game, or just getting over your irritation.

You gotta pick your battles.

If you’re having trouble identifying what might be true boundaries, (think standard) versus demands or attempts to control, I can help. I can see what might be a blind spot for you. It’s what I do.

Maybe you don’t have any experience asserting a boundary and they come out being pretty aggressive expressions. I know how to help with that too. I love supporting people as they grow stronger.

You could be super frustrated around your previously thwarted attempts with good boundaries. I can help with that.

Let’s get you prepped and set for more peaceful, happier holidays (and life) this year.

Get in here and let’s get started. Give me a call.

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make the most of your holidays this year

Holidays…Again

Here we go. The holidays again. If you’re in a relationship, it can feel like major testing time.

And for those of you alone for the holidays, I know that’s its own separate challenge.  Don’t skip this article because if you have tension with ANYONE in your life over the holidays, the process I describe below will help!

(If you’re bumming about being alone, here’s some comfort: You can read another article here  and there’s a podcast episode or two on the topic as well.)

How are your holidays shaping up?

Maybe you’ve been on this ride so many times you almost sleep-walk through them. Or about mid-October you start dreading them and adopt “survival mode.” You want to hibernate and wake up after January 2nd.

Perhaps you just love this time of year and you’re consumed with projects and plans and parties and people. It’s all so yummy for you, it’s one big winter fun fest.

Of course, those are two extremes and you might fall somewhere in the middle. Whatever your take on this time of year, it’s a deal. And it affects everyone. For some relationships, (honestly, this can apply to a love relationship, a child, a sibling relationship) this is a prime time when the same conflicts come up again and again. You could almost script them verbatim.

People make meaning of Holidays

even if the holiday itself means nothing to them. They’re a hot-button of expectation and personal, historical significance. When you and your mate have a sizeable gap in your Bah-humbug score, holidays can feel like a landmine of disappointments and endless, fruitless negotiation and “compromise.”

Holiday conflicts

Do you and your mate have a long-standing seasonal conflict? What are your normal conflict conversations? Is there a recurrent fight? What bugs you about your partner that you just know is going to happen again this year?

And hey, if you’re in a new-ish relationship is there a conflict you’re hoping to AVOID as you head into the season?

Maybe someone else in the family is on your naughty list or you rarely see them and now you’re dreading having to deal with them. Grrrrrrr.

It might seem redundant or superfluous or just painful to actually think about the looming conflicts. But what if preparing for them could help you avoid them all together? Skeptical? Read on.

A new Holiday list

This year, instead of making a wish list or a gift list, indulge me and create a sh*t list. (I can’t think of a better thing to call it! Call it cr*p if you don’t like the word sh*t. Or if you think of something else, leave a comment and let me know!)

Yes, I mean, sit down and actually write the major areas of contention. What do you already know is likely to come up or happen?

Is it that you want him to go help pick out the tree and every year it’s like pulling teeth? Is it that she gets moody before going to spend time with your family? Is it that she zones out and whirls into DO mode while she harps on the kids to get everything in shipshape before guests arrive? Does he always shop at the last minute…like on Christmas Eve day and it just makes you frantic?

Does she expect you to be happy when you show up for yet another boring office party? Does he really expect you to talk to the ridiculous office mates you have nothing in common with? Do you set a budget for spending and then at the last minute, she goes over it or he pastes a hundred dollar bill in cards on the tree for EACH one of the kids?!

Write it all down

It might surprise you that you feel a little resistant to actually doing this. After all, if you write it down does that mean it’s more likely to happen?

Um, no. Writing it down gets it out of your head and out of worry zone where you can actually take a look at it and DO something constructive with it.

You write it down so you can acknowledge that you’re carrying worry and tension around inside you because of the impending doom associated with any areas of contention.

(And I know some of you have things to write down like “hibernate until January 2 while (s)he pressures me to do everything, eat too much, watch Uncle Harry drink like a fish, drop into my winter coma, put on ten pounds, get a cold I can’t shake, try desperately to avoid the same conversation with my mom about my life going nowhere and when am I ever going to…)

It’s not funny.

But when you write it all down and LOOK at it, you might think it’s a little funny, or pathetic, or absurd, or terrible. I don’t know what you’ll think of your own list. This much I do know: you will see patterns emerge.

I’m interested in those patterns. You can get interested in them too. Note them. Is there an underlying drive for control? Do you sincerely think everyone else should just stop their complaining and enjoy it. (“We’re having a family photo taken and you are going to like it!”)

What else do you notice? Are you trying to correct your holiday experience from childhood? Are you trying to recreate it? What else can you learn by seeing your pattern?

Then you can decide what to DO with each reality on the list. And those things are reality if they’ve happened…even once! But if they’ve happened several times, they are a pattern, not just for you but for the other people involved as well.

We’re secretly hoping something will be different this time around. We hope and hope and hope and then DO the same things in our approach and it never changes. Try something new this year.

Allow, Enjoy, Plan for the holidays

For each item on the list, make a decision about it. Your choices are to Allow, Enjoy, or Plan it.

Notice that your options are NOT Avoid, Fix, or Plot your new approach. (Allowing, Enjoying, and Planning for “that thing” to happen are your new approach, by the way.) Read through the examples below:

Allow the holidays

So let’s say your mate goes over budget every single year. Is it really the end of the world that he pastes hundreds into a card for each kid at the last minute? I mean it. Literally, has the world ended because of that? No. Allow it.

You know it’s going to happen again. You know the kids love it. You know it has nothing to do with you; it has to do with your mate. And the kids might also love that there is no tension and no daggers thrown because of something that’s pretty cool for them. This is a thing you can’t control anyway, and all your efforts to do so help you feel powerless, right? But allowing this thing to happen takes the power out of the thing (the area of contention) and it actually gives you power.

You are NOT at the mercy of someone else’s behavior even when it’s patterned behavior. It’s not your job to control it anyway, so you can just allow it or, maybe, sit back and…

Enjoy the holidays

Crazy as it may sound, enjoying Uncle Harry’s over-drinking is possible. I know for some of you that feels like a dangerous stretch for all kinds of reasons associated with substance abuse and expectations in those relationships. But expectations in relationship with Uncle Harry when you know he’s going to drink himself into a near-coma are, well, a waste of energy.

Honestly, I learned this one from my youngest son. He has an uncanny ability to enjoy whatever is happening. And if Uncle Harry is overdrinking, my son is able to sit back and find amusement in the sad, pathetic fact that this happens every year, Uncle Harry says stupid stuff to offend people every year, and Grandma predictably gets her feathers in a dither.

It may be an annual event fit for a sit com or movie, and if it is, I say, why not make plans to enjoy the show? Which brings me to the next option:

Plan the holidays

I don’t mean plan a way to avoid it or fix it or make something else happen. I mean plan for the thing that’s going to happen. Is it that you and your mate are going to bicker over whose fault it is that the gifts are not wrapped and it’s time to open them? Okay. Plan for it.

Is it that Christmas morning he is going to want to sleep in and the kids come to your side of the bed eager to wake you up and it spurs a battle that turns snippy all through your first cup of coffee and until the kids have opened their gifts and have the play Dough and remote control helicopter flying through the family room and then escalate into an argument over what time the car needs to get packed for Grandma’s in order to be there on time? Okay. Plan for it.

Planning for the unpleasant things takes the sting out of them. Then when they happen, you won’t be surprised. In fact, you’ll shift your expectation away from the thing that’s NOT happening. And it will put you in a lovely position to “allow” and ENJOY what does happen.

You might even be able to observe, with a sense of humor… “see, right on time. I knew that was coming.”

How will you Allow, Enjoy, and Plan for your Holidays this year?

Take a minute to comment here and let me know what you are doing to enter into the season? Anything about what I’ve said seem hard or particularly challenging? Leave a comment here or on Facebook and let me know.

I always want to hear how it’s going for you.

And if this was helpful in anyway to you, please share it with a friend…or all your friends. It feels really good to help! Let’s do it together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

22 Handling the Holidays Alone, Part 1

Beth Luwandi LPC outlines how to handle the holidays when you’re single. She goes over tips on how to handle it, how to talk about it and who to talk to about it. Beth gives examples for different ways to make the experience better for yourself including feeling your feelings, telling the truth about those feelings with the right people, and exploring your options. Don’t make it worse for yourself. Beth gives tips on how to avoid the stuff that makes it all worse and how to make it a little better.
SUBSCRIBE for FREE, Rate and Review at ITunes to keep the podcast fresh for others.

Bonuses to being a holiday orphan with someone else’s family:
•    No family dynamics investment. (These are not your crazy family. You‘d be amazed how free and fun it can be to experience someone else’s family without being part of it. Believe me, everyone’s family has STUFF.
•    Freedom to observe.
•    Different experiences/traditions., including maybe some luscious food!

1. Feel your feelings
2. Don’t judge it. Just allow it and observe it.
3. Tell the truth about it to the right trusted person.

How to talk about it:
1. Tell the right person. Avoid those who will say you shouldn’t feel bad. Avoid telling someone who will try to fix the feeling or gloss over it. Choose someone who will empathize with you, not feel sorry for you.
2.  Use Beth’s trademarked CNBC communication  format:
a. I feel … (3 words only)
b.I want… OR I don’t want… (without using the word “you”)
c. negotiate or not
d. Observe what is the response.
3. Talking with acquaintences
a. tell the truth as much as possible
b. prep some phrases ahead of time
c. remember these are YOUR holidays, not someone else’s

How to make it better:

1. give yourself permission to OWN the holidays for yourself.
2. Do something different if you want. Get creative if you want.
3.  Acknowledge the truth of your reality in all the ways you think about it, feel about it and what you decide to DO about it.
4. Look inside yourself to discover what is really going to work for you over the holidays, including changing the expectations YOU have for yourself.

Caution: don’t set deadlines for when you’ll have a mate. If you’ve done this previously, let those declarations drop away gently. Hold that expectation very lightly.

Alone for the Holidays

Is it disgusting how early we promote the holidays and plan for them and contemplate them these days?

If you’re once again dreading the stretch from Halloween through March (including another Valentine’s Day) as a single person, you are not alone.

There’s a reason the chill of autumn signals a downturn in mood and an influx into mental health care. And it’s not all about Seasonal Affective Disorder or the lack of light threatening to undo us all.

It’s the space in the bed and the empty table setting and that we are alone on our snowy hike. Again.

And this state feels permanent. (Just as this present moment so often feels permanent.) Therefore, its foreboding is not really a surprise. How to handle it can feel pretty daunting, though. Even when you’ve done this before. Especially, sometimes when you’ve done this many times before or when you used to have a partner and you’re still healing from the heartache.

First, let’s explore what many people do -including the stuff you may have done before-  to “get through the season.” Then let’s look at how you can add even more helpful and effective methods to your approach this year.

Maybe you’ve tried some creative approaches

Some singles volunteer to feed the less fortunate. They might head up a Toy drive or another fundraiser or work more at church, synagogue, or temple. (There’s nothing like helping people worse-off than you, or reflecting on the deeper meaning of the season to float your boat long enough to bob through the dark and dreary winter ready to emerge on the other side gasping for the fresh air of springtime.) If it’s still working for you, do it. Do it some more.

Some people skip the holidays. These people either leave town on an alternate escapade or they hang out alone, hibernating away the season, resisting all doses of holiday engagement including the commercials sparkling across TV and our hulu and Netflix channels where we’ve gone to escape the constant reminders that everyone else has a partner but us.

Some of us take up the role of perpetual single among family and friends with a hearty bravado and we prep ready retorts for the time when Auntie May asks again if we’ve met anyone special or Cousin Rudy wonders aloud why we don’t just go out and bag all the single ladies in an effort to mend our broken heart. He would certainly be living it up if he had the chance, after all.

Maybe your family and friends treat you differently

Are you the family single guy or gal who elicits expectation from other family members and friends? Maybe your sister-in-law expects you’ll get the tree, haul everyone to the family gathering twice, and go get Granny from the home, because, you know, well, you don’t have a schedule or anything else to do.

Or maybe your friends are doing the pity dance trying to set you up with Everyone and his brother. Does it feel like it’s just to get you off their hands (and maybe feel a little less bad for you.) Worse yet, are they making plans to introduce you to another Thanksgiving orphan at the festivities?

That alone would be enough to make anyone want to fly to Mexico or otherwise escape the whole season.

You probably know exactly how your season is shaping up. You know the particular challenges you face and exactly why they seem so painful. Maybe this year, facing the coming weeks and months is worse than usual. You know precisely what you’ve tried in the past. You might even know exactly why your approach seems not as effective as it may have once been. You don’t need an analysis.

You need new ideas that truly help

Here are my top three:

  1. Tell a trusted someone just how you’re feeling. Hard stuff often loses much of its impact when we’re able to share it honestly. Choose wisely. You’ll want to pick someone who responds by listening instead of trying to fix things. It’s okay if they don’t do this automatically. You might need to say “I feel bad. I want someone to listen without trying to solve my problem. Can you help with that?” You know which friends or family members will respond in a positive way. And if you don’t know for sure, testing by asking the above question is a really Clean, Non-blaming Communication ™. You might already know who will really listen when you ask them to listen. If you can’t think of anyone you’d take the risk with, consider a therapist or helping professional. It’s what we do. 😉
  2. Make space for the reality. Allow it instead of skirting it. Look it square in the face, sit down with it and go ahead and feel the weight of it. Scared the feeling will linger, take you over, be difficult to escape? That’s okay too. It’s normal to have the fear. In fact, fearing the weight and power of our feelings is one of the things that drives us to avoid them or medicate them with (well, medicine) or food, alcohol, or activity. Honestly, the nature of emotion is that if you allow it and feel it fully (even experiencing it in your body) it will change and drain away. Try it. Worried about emotional overwhelm? Again, seek support from a friend or family member using Clean, Non-blaming Communication ™ like this: “I feel so heavy. I don’t want to get completely overwhelmed with this bad feeling. I want someone to sit with me in it and help me get out of it if it lingers too long. What do you think?” And if there’s no one who can keep you steady like that, pay someone to do it. You’ll be glad you did.
  3. Try something completely new. If you’re harboring a heartache or just facing one more season of holidays in the same old manner, mix it up. Try something different. Do skip the holidays if you haven’t done that before. Stay put if you’ve tried the escapism route before and see what it’s really like to experience every element of what you’re dreading. Start a tradition of your own, different from what you did with your ex or different from what you’ve done with family and friends in the past. Instead of thinking how you can help everyone else, think of what is a great gift to yourself this season. Have you been on the pity pot? Go ahead and see what it feels like to invest time giving to others.

You can do this

You’ve already weathered a good deal of pain and suffering in your current state. You’ve survived this long. And no matter what your path getting here, you did manage to get here, to this place, reading this information. Now, be encouraged. You have skills. You have choices. Implement both to find a way through the season. It just might surprise you how good each one of the days of the holiday season can actually be. Even if only a few of them are lighter than you were first anticipating, you’ll be ahead of where you started.

Don’t go it alone if you feel it might get to difficult or overwhelming. Need to know more about choosing the right therapist? Here’s a great place to start, including links to other resources. And, as always, feel free to drop me a line and let me know how it’s going.