Surviving the holidays: Breathe deeply

The holiday season is upon us! How will we ever survive the family gatherings, parties, large meals and the ever-dreaded shopping?

Relax. There are a few things you can do to survive this short yet stressful period. One, remember that this too shall pass and that you will survive. Cut yourself some slack, and remember that no matter what you are going through someone else is going or has already gone through it as well. If you remember to take time for yourself, breathe and drink plenty of water, I promise you’ll make it.

The countdown begins with the Thanksgiving holiday. We return home to celebrate with our families. We plan a big meal with all the trimmings. We decide who is bringing what, who should sit next to whom, and who will be the designated driver for the one guest who always drinks a little too much. Excitement builds, anticipation sets in, your mouth begins to water as your thoughts drift toward the pumpkin pie, scents of cinnamon and nutmeg, or the sweet smell of pipe tobacco as your father warms his feet by the fire. It’s all very Norman Rockwell until you arrive home and instantly revert to the “you” of somewhere between the ages of four and 12.

It matters not that you have your own children—or grandchildren for that matter—or that you run a Fortune 500 company. You walk through those doors to your family home and instantly every joyful memory, crazy act, misdeed or indiscretion floods through your body. You tell yourself every year it will be different, but it isn’t. You tell yourself to be kind, but you feel your body rise to a slow simmer before anyone has even spoken to you. You just know that you are no longer in charge and are potentially at the whim of everyone else.

So how can you keep the peace and keep your sanity intact? Run out of the house screaming wildly, jump in the car and drive away? Yes, that would work but then you’d miss all that good food…

Here are my suggestions. First, close your eyes and take a full, deep breath. Feel your foot as it lands on the threshold. Take notice of your entire body as you come in the door. Move with intention and deliberation. You can do this. You don’t need to move mechanically; you can float from room to room. Just be aware of where you are in your body. When things get tough, pause, take a big breath in and let it all out through your mouth. Feel your feet firmly rooted in the floor. Wriggle your feet into the floor or into the rug, into whatever you may be standing on. Then slowly move your body scan upwards. What’s really bothering you? Lack of control? That gets me every time. Surrender to the feeling. Keep breathing until it passes. Remember that all families are dysfunctional, that normal doesn’t exist. Normal is only conforming to a standard of what someone deems acceptable or not—and everyone’s standards are different.

Second, drink a lot of water. Our bodies are made up of 90 percent water, and our cells need it to survive. When your water intake is down and you’re a little dehydrated, you can get irritable. If you are going to drink wine or other alcohol, try drinking a glass of water for every cocktail. This will also help you avoid a hangover the next day. And if you’re worried about overeating, it will make you feel full. Also, if you feel the need to leave the room frequently, having to make multiple trips to the bathroom will help! While there, depending on how things are going, you can splash water on your face to bring you back to reality and into your body. It also gives you a moment to yourself and to come back to center.

Third, get outside. Let the cool air clear your head and invigorate your body. Let it awaken the senses. Go for a walk to get the blood flowing. Go alone or maybe ask someone to come with you, depending on who they are and what place they hold in your life. Maybe it’s someone you want to catch up with, but it’s really OK to go alone. Process how you’re feeling. Take deep breaths and notice where your body feels tight or restricted. Maybe you want to go for a run to burn off those calories or shed the frustration that stems from having that same conversation on how you “misplaced” your brother’s Kenny Rogers’ album that he played every day for two months….

Finally, know that you are not alone. Many are feeling this exact way. You have returned home because you love your family and all their quirks. You really wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Be patient with yourself. If you feel yourself going quickly to an emotion, pause, breathe, take a drink of water. Take care of yourself. Accept all those around you because one day they may not be here. Be grateful for all that you have and that you have someone to celebrate with. This is something you have chosen.

Family is much bigger than you or me; it is a series of generations that we build on to create the moments that make us who we are. May you all have a joyous holiday season.