Home for the Holidays: 6 Tips to Help You Out of Anxiety and Into Confidence

by Ken Dubner
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Pack your bags and get ready to experience the holidays -that happy, joyous time with loved ones, basking in the warmth of family togetherness…yeah, right.  Don’t let the Hallmark cards fool you.  Holidays are stressful for most adults.  Visiting home and attending family events promotes anxiety as much as any other emotion.  You may be among the lucky ones who will love seeing your family, or one of those who hope you can just get through it intact.  Either way, most of us are bound to experience some amount of anxiety when we have expectations that can’t possibly be met in the realm of real human interactions.  But never fear…there are ways to successfully navigate through the holidays amongst your people experiencing love and happiness.  The key is to be conscious of the psychological baggage you are packing along with your holiday sweaters.

Here are 6 tips to help you get through the holidays.

  1. Update your ID. Identify your childhood identity in that group.  Determine who you were then.  Were you the baby of the family, the trouble maker, or the golden child?  Next, acknowledge that as an adult you get to choose who you want to be now.  Returning to that childhood family group will always put you back in that same child-like position psychologically.  What role does the family see you in?  Do you choose to remain in that role?  If not, maintain who you have chosen to be as a grown up.  It is within your grown up power to experience all the human emotions and still maintain loving relationships.  Either you can return home having rehashed all the same old negative stuff that’s been going on your whole life, or you can return to your differentiated adult life recharged having enjoyed the holiday experience.  It is within your power.  You are an adult now.
2. Breathe deeply. When you are tense you breathe up in your chest, when you are relaxed, you breathe down into your belly. Breathing deeply is the best thing you can do physically to stay calm in any situation.  It’s sometimes called combat breathing – if it works for combat, it should work for you when that little sister pushes your button in the way that only she knows how to do.  But you won’t fall in that trap this time.  You will take a deep breath and access your inner calm.
3. Be a fly on the wall. There are 2 ways you can look at any situation- through your own eyes, as you normally see it, or from the perspective of an outsider looking in. When you are cornered by your cousin who is on the opposite side of the political spectrum and the conversation starts to get confrontational, envision yourself as a fly on the wall – to give yourself perspective on the situation.  The fly’s perspective helps to take the emotion out of it.  Look at it with your adult eyes and see that it is an adult talking to an adult.  It is not a 14 year old talking to an 18 year old or a 4 year old talking to a 6 year old.  When a parent says something that takes you back to when you were a kid and makes you feel powerless, see that scene as an older person who is doing their best with the knowledge they have, talking to another adult who is able to make grown up decisions.  Taking a fly on the wall perspective is a big part of maintaining healthy boundaries and maintaining your own grown up identity during these stressful times.
4. Play nice (with yourself). We have all heard an adult tell us to play nice with our siblings and say nice things to our friends, but have you ever thought about what things you say to yourself?  Talk to yourself as though you are your own best friend.  Come up with your own friendly phrases to repeat to yourself such as, “Ken, you are an adult, you can handle this”.  Include your own name in these statements.  Psychological studies have shown that using your name in self-talk is important.  For example, “Marilyn, this too shall pass”.  Practice saying these things to yourself often.  Make sure that mean bully-like internal dialogue you sometimes have with yourself doesn’t travel with you.  Tell yourself the kindest thing that a best friend would say to you if you were playing nice.  (Hint: Mom was right- you should play nice with your relatives too. When you begin to master it with yourself, it will be easier with them.)
5. Pack Your Cape. A superhero posture does wonders for your confidence and positive attitude.  Think Superman and Wonder Woman.  Stand straight, hands on hips, elbows out to the sides,  shoulders back, chest out.  A 2012 Harvard Business School Study suggests more positive outcomes in social situations when power poses are used.  When you do this your cortisol level goes down (anxiety) and testosterone goes up (confidence – even in women).  This helps you to feel more confident.  When you feel confident, your social interactions go more smoothly with or without the cape.
6. Magic Bathroom Technique. How do you keep all this in mind with all the holiday hustle and bustle going on around you? Once again, think of Superman. The bathroom is your phone booth.  Most families will leave you alone in this situation and respect at least this boundary.  When you go into the bathroom, remember your own identity. Breathe deeply and speak positively to yourself.  Get in the Superman/Wonder Woman position, and visualize the fly on the wall perspective.  Do this for 60 seconds.  Reset and recharge.  Then come out of the bathroom ready to feel the magic of your own super powers. (BTW… If your family doesn’t respect that boundary at least, then you may need more help with them than this article can provide.  Hint: Think family counseling).

Take these techniques along during your holiday travels.  They will help you pack in a confidence and a positive attitude which will bring your family holiday a bit closer to that Hallmark experience you imagine. And they take up no room in your bags, so you will have enough room left over to take home a big piece of Aunt Nora’s holiday fruitcake.
Ken Dubner

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