Combating Loneliness During Social Distancing

loneliness during social distancing

Humans are social creatures. We need each other. (Even introverts!) So how do we combat loneliness during social distancing? Before I get into that, let’s look at some statistics to see why this is such an important topic.

Statistics Around Loneliness

According to socialpronow:

  • loneliness in the USA is increasing. 52% of people sometimes or always feel alone.
  • Millennials and Gen Zs have the highest rates of loneliness at 65%.
  • 44% of the elder report being lonely
  • Men (63%) are more lonely than women (58%)
  • Loneliness is more harmful to your health than obesity, smoking, drinking, or not exercising.

So in effect, we’re risking our health so that we can preserve our health right now. Fortunately, it’s temporary. Here are some strategies to help you through.

Reframe Aloneness

Many people think that loneliness is about being alone. This can make us avoid being alone. However, we all need alone time. This is time to reflect, plan, relax, restore ourselves, or do self care. When we’re busy interacting with others, we can forget about ourselves. So instead of seeing solitary time as a bad time, take advantage of it to nurture yourself.

Think of it as “me time.” In fact, maybe you want to make your alone time a “to do” item. This tells your unconscious that this is important and desirable. When you’re the best you that you can be, you are more of an asset to yourself and others.

Change Your Thoughts

Loneliness isn’t about being alone. It’s about the subjective sense of connection to people and the universe. You don’t need other people to create this. It’s already within you. All you have to do is change your thoughts.

We all have family and ancestors. We belong to the animal kingdom and universe. The plant kingdom also inhabits the universe. The Earth houses us all. If we cultivate a connection to our village, city, state, or nation, we can connect to that too. We share culture with others too. Some of belong to groups, clubs, schools, or teams. There are so many things we can connect to that can nurture us if we change the way we look at them.

When you ask a gang member or a hate group why they chose to join, they almost always tell you its because of a sense of belonging that they felt there. We already belong to many different things. All we have to do is change the way we think about these relationships. Cultivate them. Nurture them. Let them be a source of strength.

Connect to Nature

Humans are part of Nature. Your natural family is all around you. Can you look up at the night sky and not feel the awe? You are made of stardust! What an awesome creature you are! The mighty trees are quite similar to humans. Even if you can’t be with people, you have these natural relatives all around you. Open your heart. Feel them. Feel your spiritual connection to them. Take comfort in your belonging to this vast, mysterious web of life.

Reach Out Virtually

Thanks to social distancing, many things that weren’t accessible virtually now are. Meetup is encouraging all their hosts to hold virtual meetups, so you can learn to dance, do yoga, or talk about your favorite book with people who like what you like. Anyone can join meetup. Just find a group that you like and you’re in!

Need support? AA and other social support organizations are now offering virtual meetings, too. Your family and friends are still there, too. You can always pick up the phone and call someone.

Social Distancing Isn’t Emotional Distancing

The key to staying connected is to be emotionally available. This means you open up. Show yourself. Share yourself. Be vulnerable, honest, and real while respecting boundaries and considering the comfort level of others. Feel your feelings. Loneliness isn’t about how many people you see in a day. It’s about how connected you feel in their presence. If you want to make that more likely, lead. Be open to nature, yourself, others, and see how your connection increases.

Social distancing doesn’t have to lead to loneliness. If you’ve been lonely already, perhaps this could be the doorway that breaks this cycle. Why not let it?

 

 

Overwhelmed? Read this to Get Going Again

overwhelm

Spring is here. You’ve got time to do all these things you have always talked about. Yet this sense of overwhelm is keeping you from getting started. Maybe you’re vegging out with video games, talking on the phone, or laying around instead of doing even one of the many things you need to do or want to do. It just feels like being in the ocean being hit with giant wave after wave and you just can’t get up. Life still demands that you be “on”, but you can’t get going.

What do you do when you’re overwhelmed?

Chill

First, take a chill pill. Relax. Meditate. Breathe. Take a hot bath. Have a cup of coffee or tea for five or ten minutes. Do nothing. This will give your nervous system a chance to down regulate so that you can see clearly and feel more balanced. If you are really keyed up, make it fifteen minutes. Or thirty. You say you don’t have time, but this is a really important step. The effectiveness of everything else you do is impacted by your ability to attain calm for just a few moments first.

Practice Mindfulness

Put on your mindfulness cap. See things as they are, not how they feel they are. It may feel like people are judging you, things have to be done perfectly or right now. It might feel like the world is coming to an end. Is that really true?

Get Clear on What You Need Right Now

While you are here, ask yourself what you need right now. Do you need to fall apart? Fall apart. Do you need to be with someone else while you fall apart? Ask for help. Maybe you just need to admit that things are out of control before you can move on. Or is this about forgiveness? A need to end something? The desire to feel heard? Whatever it is, use this time to do some self care. Only when you’re good (or as good as can be under the circumstances), move ahead.

Make a Mindful List

Now, with your mindfulness cap on, make a list of the things you have to do. Stick to bullets and small chunks like “do the dishes” instead of “clean the kitchen.” Delete any commentary or judgment. Remember, we’re making it a mindful list.

Reduce Distractions

It’s easy to get distracted. Especially if we want to be distracted so that we don’t follow through with what we don’t want to do. Set yourself up for success by reducing distractions. Distractions are one more thing to pay attention to and add to the sense of overwhelm. So turn off your phone. Stop checking social media and text messages. Close your door. Reduce the background noise, and get to work.

Avoid Making New Commitments

People who have a hard time saying no can create huge piles of commitments for themselves that they don’t have time to follow through with. Learning to say no is a form of self care. You matter. Self care matters. Relationships are important too, but for now, “no” is a magic word that will help you dig yourself out of an overwhelming hole. Just say no.

Delegate

If you can give some of the load to someone else, delegate. Great leaders are neither micromanagers nor do-it-all types of people. They work as a team. If delegating is possible and within healthy boundaries, share the load. If it’s all your work, perhaps you can still ask for help. That’s what friends do.

Get Started

It may seem that the most important items on your to do list should be done first. No. When you’re overwhelmed, the most important thing is to get started, so we’re going to do that by targeting the thing that is easiest to accomplish. Maybe it’s even something fun. If you have a list of ten things and you can knock out three very quickly and easily, it will give you a psychological boost to see that you’re a third of the way there. That can give you juice to keep going on the things that take longer or aren’t so enjoyable.

Be Grateful

Gratitude helps us get through everything. Maybe you focus on being grateful to have a job to do. Maybe it’s about being healthy or skilled enough to do something. Be grateful to have the money to do something or the time. Be grateful to have a family or partner to do things for. We’re all abundantly lucky. All we have to do is look around and see it. When we know why we’re doing what we’re doing, it makes it easier.

There may be many steps between you and your goal. Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” So take that step. And then take another, and another. Slowly you the sense of overwhelm will ease, the scenery will change, and things will look very different. Just keep going.

 

Why Is It So Hard to Be Still?

be still

Why is it so hard to be still? With everyone practicing social distancing, a lot of us are stir crazy after just a few days inside. We have a golden opportunity to breathe, be still, release stress and anxiety, and see into the depths of our being – and we’re not taking it!

So, I am issuing this challenge. Be still for fifteen minutes a day for as long as social distancing lasts. It’s fifteen itty, bitty minutes out of 1440 in a day that suddenly became massively uncluttered for many of us. That leaves 1425 minutes to worry, talk, plan, exercise, clean, work, solve problems, meditate, be emotional, argue, surf the ‘net, play, eat, sleep, bathe, or do whatever you want.

Why Be Still?

I am sure your practice of stillness will generate its own benefits. Here are some of mine.

In stillness you gain space for reflection. Most of us are reactive. Something happens and we have a habitual reaction because there is no pause, no space for something new to come in. Stillness gives you that space. It helps you to slow down, savor, and be. You see things you didn’t see before. You have options that didn’t exist before. All because you stopped for a moment.

We all have a light inside. When we are still, it’s easier to feel it warming us from the inside. Once we tune into it, it’s easier to see it shining when we’re not looking. This light can guide us when we’re keyed up so that we act from our center, our true self, not our emotion mind. So stillness helps us to be in tune with our highest and best self more of the time.

Stillness also helps us to see the light outside of us – in small things like the colors of the sky at sunset. But also in big things like your values and the importance of family. It helps us to live on purpose.

I don’t have any evidence of this outside of my own experience, but I believe that stillness also helps to balance us. We live in a world dominated by left brain energy. Stillness is feminine. Fifteen minutes of stillness helps poetry, softness, creativity, and connection to creep into our lives so that we’re more balanced.

How to Be Still?

Okay, so you’re convinced to give it a try, but you want to know how.

  1. Create or find a stillness place. This is an actual place or a place in your mind that is uncluttered, quiet, comfortable, and where you won’t be disturbed for fifteen minutes. If it’s an actual place, consider the feng shui. Simple, clean, with soothing colors works best. If outside, a place in nature away from traffic and manmade noise is ideal. Use this same place each time you go into stillness. Over time it will create an association in your mind that when you are here, you are still.
  2. Set the timer for fifteen minutes. This way you don’t have to stop your stillness to check the time.
  3. Create your “zone.” The zone is your way of stilling the mind. I live on the river, so watching the water go by is perfect for that. Rocking in rocking chair is also hypnotic. Conscious breathing works well. Staring into a candle flame could work. Walking while humming mindlessly could also work. Knitting might work. The more active you are, the trickier it gets to stop your thoughts. If you’re singing a song with words or if you have to watch your step while walking, these ideas won’t work so well.
  4. Do no thing. While your body may be rocking, your mind is doing no thing. It’s not thinking about whether or not you’re comfortable or what’s for lunch. It’s just present with you. If you have a thought, observe it. Don’t entertain it. Just notice it and let it go. It’s like passing scenery when you are on a train. Just let it go on by. If it’s important, you can pick it up later.
  5. Don’t judge. If you were only still for half the time, so what. Skip a day? So what. If you did three days perfectly and then lost your rhythm, it’s okay. No judging allowed. It’s not a contest.
  6. Commit to a routine. Do this at the same time in the same place every day. This makes it easier to create a habit.

I’d love to hear how it went for you. Drop me a comment and let me know.

Be Careful of Vicarious Trauma From Movies

vicarious trauma

Be careful of vicarious trauma from movies. I know we watch so much sexual violence and physical brutality that we can glaze over. It can feel like the violence doesn’t have an impact. It does.

I was recently watching Hotel Mumbai. It’s a dramatization of the terrorist attacks in India where ten Pakistani men killed 164 people and injured 300 over four days. The movie was unsentimental and didn’t glamorize or glorify violence. It just reported the events.

When it was over, I was literally shaking. You can’t experience horror without responding to it – even if it’s at the distance of watching it as a movie.

Violence is not “entertaining.” It’s horrifying.

Humans are designed to survive. We do that by going into fight, flight, fleeing or shutting down. If there isn’t some intervention to shut that off, it makes us numb, depressed, and hyper-alert- sometimes all at the same time. Each incident builds upon the previous one, making us less and less alive and functional.

Here is what the research says:

  • Indiana University School of Medicine examined young men who were playing violent video games for one week. There were visible alterations in MRI brain scans. This area of the brain is responsible for anger, aggression, impulsivity, and depression.
  • The Virginia Tech Research Division showed that violent movies can increase hostile behavior. The University of Alabama had a similar study with similar findings. However, Dr Nelly Alia-Klein, of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, says that this depends on how violent the viewer was to begin with.  The more violent or angry the person is, the bigger the impact. Other studies show that the impact is short lived.
  • The Macquarie University Children and Families Research Centre in Australia found that children who watch violent movies are more likely to view the world as an unsympathetic, malicious and scary place.
  • There are 13 documented cases of people developing full blown PTSD after watching a horror movie.

We can choose our entertainment. A good story can be told without being graphic.

“Vicarious” mean to experience through the eyes of another. So the violence doesn’t have to happen to you to create vicarious trauma. It doesn’t even have to be live or real. Think about what you watch and what you let your children watch. Individual temperament, setting, age, and coping skills all play a part in whether or not long term harm results.

The other thing you can do for yourself is learn how to shake it off. We all need to do this daily as modern life is far more stimulating than the nervous system is capable of handling. Society has evolved faster than the brain can keep up. If you need help with this, contact me. It’s something I teach regularly.

Healthy Boundaries for Grandparents

healthy boundaries for grandparents

It’s holiday time! Lots of stress can happen when expectations are high, time is short, and buttons are pushed. Old family issues can rear their heads making this an unpleasant time for some people. Here are some guidelines for healthy boundaries for grandparents that may help.

The Parents Rules are Your Rules

“The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.” That means that the parents get to decide what are the rules for their children. Consistency matters. It helps to create stability. So, defer to the parents when it comes to bedtime, diet, discipline – everything. This doesn’t mean you have to ask how to do every little thing. Observe how the parents do things and keep the rules the same when the kids are with you. It shows respect and confidence in your kids’ ability to parent. This will go a long way with the parents and the kids.

Don’t Pass the Baby!

Times are different. The previous generation did a lot of things that today’s moms don’t do. One of them is pass the baby. Babies have undeveloped immune systems. Passing the baby to many different people can make the baby vulnerable to infections. Let people admire the baby from afar. If mom wants baby to be held, let her pass the baby to others.

Don’t Ask About (More) Children

Today’s adults are having fewer children or even no children. Trust that if they want kids, they will have them when they are ready. It’s not “wrong” to wait, be childless, or stop at one or two. Infertility is also on the rise. The inability to get pregnant could be a sensitive topic. Avoid talking about it unless the subject is brought to you.

Don’t Let Your Grandkids Run Amok

It can be tempting to be the “good time” grandparent and let your grandkids just run wild. Unfortunately, you don’t have to deal with the temper tantrums later. Kids need discipline. If a child gets away with being sassy, messy, undisciplined, you’re teaching them that’s it’s worthwhile to manipulate and have temper tantrums. It’s much healthier to show them how to make amends, be pro-social, and cope with disappointment.

Don’t Sneak the Kids Treats

Lots of grandparents want to treat their grandkids. Back in the day, that was often done with sweets. Many of today’s parents are more food conscious than in the past. We have a lot more food-like substances and foods with sugar added than in the past. Many people have struggled with emotional eating, too. So parents may not want their kids to associate sugar with rewards. Follow the parent’s guidelines.

Don’t Pump Your Grandkids for Information

Grandparents may be concerned about how things are going. Asking the grandkids for information is not the way to get it. Let your relationship with your children dictate what is shared. Don’t go through the backdoor to get information.

Don’t Use Guilt or Manipulation to Get Your Way

Guilt and manipulation are never the way to improve relationships. They are power plays that create a winner and a loser. If someone loses, the relationship loses. Approach the parents with respect. Allow them their dignity. Respect their power. Parenting is a huge responsibility. They need support. Give it to them.

Assume the Best

People are different. Generations are different. There are bound to be differences in values when it comes to how your kids are rearing your grandkids. Assume that the parents want the best for their kids and are doing their best. Unless the kids are being abused or neglected, it’s all going to be okay. Even the most well-meaning parents make mistakes. Most of us turn out okay.

Grandparents can assume that being a grandparent gives them certain privileges and rights. When children grow up, they become sovereign beings who guide their own lives. They may decide that their rules for themselves are different than those that they were brought up with. That’s okay. Everyone is healthier and happier when their boundaries are respected.

What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do

Image by SplitShire from Pixabay

We all have times when we don’t know what to do. Maybe you’re in limbo and all you can do is wait. It could be that you’re in new territory and you don’t have a map. Perhaps you’re overwhelmed and can’t think straight. Maybe none of the things you want to do are realistic options.

When those times happen, it’s good to have a strategy so that you don’t stay stuck. Here are some ideas.

Self Care

When things get tough, many people cope by going to sleep later, waking up earlier, skipping healthy meals, giving up meditation and exercise to make time for other people and other things. We put ourselves last. This is a great way to collapse!

I know you know that we all serve best from a full vessel, but it can be hard to do this when things are falling apart around you. You’ve got to put self care first. This is especially true if you are the type of person who holds up the world for other people. Don’t go down with the ship. Take care of you.

Maybe this means taking a warm bath, giving yourself time to read a book, spending time with friends, sleeping 8 hours, or saying no.

Slow Down

When things get rough, we often forced to slow down. If we choose this, it’s easier to take.

Choosing to slow down is also a way of conserving energy, being thoughtful, and avoiding shutting down. It can be tempting to stay in bed with the covers over your head and shut the world out. An object in motion tends to stay in motion. If we shut down, it’s a lot harder to get going again. So be purposeful in your slowing down so that you’re still in the game, just at a much reduced rate.

This can look like backing away from social engagements, leaving early, breathing more, savoring each moment, and literally moving slower.

Make Something

Creating things is a way of transforming stuck energy into creative energy. As long as energy is moving somewhere in life, we tend to be more hopeful and alive. Now, you might say, “I’m not good at that sort of thing.” If so, think outside of the box. We all make things all the time.

What about making a meal? A painting? You could make someone laugh. How about playing or singing  a song? Or a dance? Or what about making up a story? You could make something useful that you’ve been meaning to do for a long time, like sewing something. Or creating a new barn.

Busy hands take your mind off things. What we create gives us a sense of purpose as well. This is a great thing to do when we don’t know what to do.

Play

Sometime we get really focused on being productive or doing things that are meaningful. We forget to play. “Play” is doing something with no purpose and no desired outcome. It’s a great way to stimulate creativity. It can open up new ideas for how to be unstuck, but don’t do it for that reason. That makes it work. Just do it for the fun of it.

Love Something/Someone

Having something or someone to love makes the in-between times bearable. Are you passionate about hiking, origami, or perfume making? Do that. Do you have a kitty or dog to squeeze? Cuddle with them. Or maybe you lean into your partner, family, or friends.

Lighting the darkness with love creates balance. Sometimes the darkness is a necessary part of transition. We can make it easier with love.

Clean Something

Order and chaos are partners. When things seem stagnant or out of control, we can do our bit by cleaning something. If it’s a big job, focus on a small piece. Maybe you clean your desk or your car. Or maybe you remodel your whole house! Cleaning creates space for energy to move, so you may see options that you didn’t see before. Maybe you’re not as stuck as you thought.

Remember that everything passes. This will too. All you have to do is keep moving.

When Is It Time to Walk Away From Your Relationship

walk away

Relationships are tough! It take a lot of bravery to enter into one and even more to walk away. So how do you know when it’s time to walk away?

Why Relationships Are Hard

Relationships are hard because we tend to be drawn to those who fit our into comfort zone. We like people who inspire us to be our highest and best selves, love us the way we want to be loved, and help to maintain our shadows. This last piece keeps us in our dysfunction unless we grow. And if we do grow, then that person is no longer a match.

For example, if our pattern is to find comfort in taking care of others, we choose partners who need that care. If we feel inferior, we may choose a partner who puts us on a pedestal. If we have a lot of shame or guilt, we may choose someone who either validates that by putting us down or someone who accepts us as we are. Either way, the partnership keeps us in our shadow.

When we begin to grow, if our partner isn’t growing with us or in the same direction, we grow right out of the dynamic that brought us together. So, it can often feel like we have to choose between what’s in our best interest vs. what’s in the interest of the relationship. If we choose the relationship and stay the same, a part of us dies.

When To Walk Away

So, when is it time to walk away? Well, there is no right or wrong answer. What is “right” for one person won’t be right for another. It’s not black and white. So, the guideline is to know yourself. Know what your deal breakers are. They are times when the cost outweighs the gains. Here are some possible deal breakers.

Safety Issues

I put this one first because I hope that we all agree that where there is no safety, there is no relationship. I refer to physical, emotional, and spiritual safety. We all have a right to sovereignty. Our bodies are a sanctuary. Our thoughts and feelings are also precious. They are ours. We have a right to them. If they are invalidated or violated, we cannot thrive. We all owe it to ourselves to choose situations that allow us to be our highest and best selves.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that our partner agrees with us or caters to us. It does mean that we are free from harm, coercion, and judgment.

Children Issues

Children are forever relationships. They are non-negotiable. If one of you wants children and the other doesn’t, it’s a deal breaker. Forcing someone to parent who doesn’t want to parent is a recipe for disaster.

If you already have children and the children don’t accept the new partner, the relationship will endure unbearable stress. You may be able to help the kids feel more secure in time. So, this could be more of a “let’s slow down” thing than a “we need to break up” thing. If the children perceive it’s a choice between them and your partner, someone is going to lose. It’s best for all if things move at a pace where everyone can feel loved and like they have a choice.

If your partner’s ex makes co-parenting with you impossible, that could also be a long term hassle that is just not worth the cost.

The other common issue with children is when partners have a radically different parenting style. Believe it or not, money and children are the top two reasons that couples argue. When one is too lax and the other is too strict, this can be a deal breaker. Parents care about their kids. They want them to be healthy and happy. When parents have different ways of achieving that, it can feel invalidating.

In-law Issues

Compatibility is a balance between sameness and differences. The things that are the same provide us with a foundation for commonality. Our differences keep things exciting so that we grow. Compatibility looks at things like socio-economic status, age, religion or spirituality, education, intelligence, recreational preferences, political ideology, sexual likes and libido, etc.

Unfortunately, one of the things we often overlook is our families. We say, “I’m marrying you, not your family” when in actuality, it’s a package deal. We might get away with not seeing the in-laws often, but if there are kids, the in-laws become aunts, uncles, and grandparents who are now a part of their lives and your family. If they are inappropriate, violent, aggressive, disrespectful, or have radically different ideas than you, you can only go so far away. Separating your partner from her family isn’t a reasonable request. Separating yourself from your partner’s family isn’t very unifying either.

Addiction Issues

If we’re creating a trend, it’s “deal breakers are anything that make you choose between yourself and something or someone else.” In this case, it’s addition. Lots of people in a relationship where their partner has addiction issues say that it’s like having another person in the relationship. The person with the addiction seems powerless over it. So you never know when the next shoe is going to drop. Maybe the next surprise is a financial hit, an affair, a medical issue, or a legal one. It often feels like a betrayal. You know it’s coming, but you don’t know when, what, or how. So, it’s like waiting to exhale.

Dishonesty

There are all kinds of ways to be dishonest. They range from telling withholding the truth, telling “white lies”, half-truths, bold face lies, and gaslighting. (Gaslighting is deliberately manipulating to make the other person question their sanity). Relationships are based on trust. Anything short of honesty undermines trust.

It takes two to tell the truth. One to speak it and the other to hear it. If the fall out for telling the truth is not worth it, then perhaps the relationship is not healthy enough to sustain itself. It’s like a choice between “Am I going to maintain my integrity for me, or am I going to sacrifice it to stay in this relationship?” And if you choose the latter, is it a relationship that you want to be in?

Works in Progress

We’re all works in progress. We make mistakes. All relationships go through growing pains and challenges. Sometimes we go through period of the problems above and we can work it out. Sometimes we compromise our integrity or comfort for a while out of love for our partner. That’s not a bad thing. Commitment is often lacking in our modern world, so it’s commendable. Only you can choose when enough is enough.

If you’re going through this process, I suggest you ask, “What is staying costing me? Is this a price I am willing to pay?” Then proceed mindfully. Accept the consequences and cost. Look at the growth opportunities for you and allow the situation to take you out of your comfort zone and into a healthier place. Whether you stay or go, you will come out healthier, so it’s a win/win.

 

Am I Out of Control?

Am I Out of Control?

I recently posted an article about how to deal with a toxic family over the holidays. But what if you are contributing to the problem? Let’s take a look at how you can reframe the situation so that things stay safe and calm for everyone.

Am I Out of Control?

Few people are truly out of control. Those that I have seen are usually incarcerated or in a psychiatric hospital.

Do you keep it together at work? What about at the gym, grocery store, or other places away from family? If so, you’re not out of control. You may be choosing to lose control at home because you don’t have the same repercussions. It’s safe.

This is not the same thing as “I can’t stop myself.” If you truly could not stop yourself, you’d lack control in all situations. So the good news is, you can learn to use the same control that you exhibit in some situations and generalize it to all situations.

Everyone deserves to have a safe place. Even you. When you lose control, you are negatively impacted too. So let’s look at how to regain that control.

What Do You Really Need?

Sometimes when we blow up at people, what we really need is to feel safe. Things are too tense, so we want some space. We create it by pushing people away with ugliness. If this is what is happening, you could use the direct route and just ask for what you need. Or you can excuse yourself so that you can get that space. It’s okay to ask for what you want.

Sometimes we go for alcohol or drugs when we really just want to relax or feel more social. The alcohol helps, but then we go overboard. We end up doing or saying things we regret. If you want to relax, there are hundreds of effective techniques you can learn that will help with that that don’t have the side effect of leading to hurtful or undesirable behavior. If you want to be more social, you can learn skills that make this easier and more comfortable.

Sometimes being difficult is about needing to release the tension of being overstimulated. It’s hard for some people to deal with the stress of too much noise, too many people, expectations, and traffic that the holidays can bring. So, we meltdown. Instead of melting down, you can cope ahead and make a plan of what to do so that you can pace yourself. Take breaks and go outside. Limit the amount of time you spend at parties or with others. Have a plan for what to do afterward to decompress.

Healing begins with self-awareness. Find out what you need. If it’s something that someone else can give, ask for what you need. If this is something you need to do for yourself, follow through. Perhaps you don’t know what you need or what to do. You can get help to figure it out. Change is possible if you want it.

Limit Vulnerabilities

Coping is easier when you limit vulnerabilities. “Vulnerabilities” are anything that makes the stress worse and the chance for behaving in an undesirable way more likely. Common vulnerabilities are:

  • fatigue and a sleep routine that is not regular or long enough
  • being hungry or eating unhealthy food
  • consuming unhealthy substances like sugar, alcohol, and drugs
  • lack of exercise
  • being inside all day, sitting
  • not having a regular spiritual practice
  • harboring anger
  • loneliness

As you can see, the holidays are a perfect time for vulnerabilities to skyrocket. There are sweets everywhere. Social demands increase so we may skip exercise, meals, and sleep to accommodate others. The days are shorter and cold, so we might not get outside. This leads to resentment that we don’t express. And we can feel more alone in a crowd. This is why it’s even more important during holiday season to stick to your self-care routine.

Creating a healthy lifestyle is the best way to make your life more pleasant for you and everyone around you.

Hold Yourself Accountable

Everyone has power. Even if the problem starts with someone else, you are in control of how you respond. You don’t have to contribute to the problem. You don’t have to respond. If you have the skills, you could even do something to halt it or improve things. When you hold yourself accountable for your part, you gain a sense of contr0l over the situation. Powerlessness is crippling, so this is a great way to regain your footing again.

What About Trauma?

Maybe all this sounds like common sense, but what if it seems supremely hard because of a trauma history? That’s legitimate. Having a trauma history does make it challenging to do simple things like say, “Excuse me” and “I’m sorry.” It does make it harder to know what’s happening inside of you before you blow up or meltdown.

Fortunately, there has been an explosion of training in mind/body techniques in recent years that makes treatment more accessible, shorter, and more effective. Seeing a therapist who specializes in trauma treatment could be the best thing you do for yourself. Starting now could make next year’s holidays very different.

So, whether things are out of control or you are out of control, there is a way to smooth the path forward. It starts with you. The changes that you make can make all the difference.

 

 

Surviving the Holidays With a Toxic Family

toxic family

I often talk about the importance of family ties. Family is important to one’s sense of self, connection, and happiness. Yet when our family is not healthy, navigating our lives around them is hard. Surviving the holidays with a toxic family can be overwhelming. Here are some ideas to help with that.

What Do You Want?

You can start by asking yourself what you want. There are many ways to have a happy holiday. You don’t have to do it any particular way. It doesn’t have to be expensive, grand, include particular people, or anything at all. It can be whatever you want it to be. So let go of expectations and ask yourself, “What do I want?”

If what you want is to not share the holidays with your family, don’t. Do it your way. You can do it alone, at a restaurant, at a resort, with your spouse and children, with friends, or whatever tickles your fancy. You don’t have to cater to tradition, someone else’s fantasy, or other people’s expectations. It’s your holiday too. Make it a happy one.

Stand Your Ground

Share your thoughts and feelings and stand your ground. You don’t have to explain, rationalize, or justify. If you offer excuses for what you want, it invites others to offer solutions or objections. A simple declarative statement will suffice. (Examples: I’m going; I’m not going; Not this year; We have other plans; I’ll be there for an hour. I can come at this time).

Cope Ahead

What calms you? Think about those strategies and have a plan in place for before and after so that you can maintain or regain your equilibrium. Maybe this means you get a night of deep sleep, schedule a massage, or do some yoga. Maybe you plan an outing with friends, turn off your ringer, or do a hike in the woods. Having a self-care plan makes it more likely that you will follow through with it when it’s needed.

Witness But Don’t Engage

If someone is turning up the crazy, witness it but don’t engage. Sometimes people will quiet down if they can’t get a reaction. If not, well it still doesn’t have to be your problem. Remember “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

If the drama is focused on you, this is a lot harder to do. Remember that it’s not about you, it’s just directed at you. You have a choice to engage in your old roles or create a new one. Seeing through the lens of empathy, compassion, and detachment can help you step back and let whatever is directed at you flow past without touching you.

Limit Your Exposure

Even a saint has a hard time in unhealthy environments. If you choose to be in one, it may be a good idea to keep it short. It’s a lot easier to endure stress for two hours than two days. If you can duck out for a few minutes, that’s even better. Does someone need something from the store? You could volunteer. Do the kids want to play a game of football outside? You could join in. The further away from the drama, the better. Perhaps you can even avoid the whole thing this way.

Acceptance

Whatever is happening, accept it. Trying to change it, control it, pretend it’s something else, or complain about it only intensifies the distress. Acceptance doesn’t mean you like it. It’s just a way of staying present. Staying present keeps you from being carried away.

Know Your Limits

If your family is not just dysfunctional, but truly toxic, know your limits. Sometimes it’s really better to cut ties. Family is important, but stability is even more important. You can’t have a relationship with anyone if you are crying in a corner somewhere. You can’t heal if you’re being wounded all the time. Do you, and love them from afar.

Two People Can’t Be in a Crisis At the Same Time

When parents lose a child, it often ends in divorce because two people can’t be in crisis at the same time. Each is in a place of need and the other isn’t available to give because they are also in need. This leaves both feeling alone and unsupported. 

Losing a child is a pretty extreme example. Here are some others that show how this can happen in less extreme ways:

  • When someone has an affair, the Betrayer is dealing with the events that led to the affair, the fallout, and potentially the loss of the new lover. The Betrayed is dealing with the betrayal. They are not in an ideal place to help each other because they are the source of a lot of pain. They are also in a space of overwhelm. We can’t help from that place.
  • When each partner in a relationship has a mental health issue, each can escalate and get lost in their own needs. They then become unavailable to help the other because they are overwhelmed. For example, if A needs to feel connected and B needs to get away to feel safe, A can chase. This is the exact opposite of what B needs. B can then blow up to push A away. This often makes things worse as well.
  • If a couple uses the Hero-Victim-Oppressor triangle (codependency), and one of them steps out of their role, it can feel so alien and scary that the other behaves in such a way to make them go back to the dysfunction. This sustains the status quo and prevents them from moving to a more healthy way of being.
  • When there is a new baby, mom can be tired because of the time and attention that the baby demands. Dad’s not sleeping so he’s tired. He’s also frustrated by losing mom’s affection. Neither has anything to give the other so both can feel neglected.
  • Or more simply put, two overwhelmed people can’t help each other. They don’t have any juice to give to the other.

The Giver & Taker

We all have a giving side. Some of us live there. We all also need to receive. Some of us are great at receiving and being taken care of. Others not so much. Often Giver and Taker find each other because this feels like a comfortable fit.

The healthiest way to function is to have healthy Giver and Taker energy within us. We can give and receive from others, but we primarily do this for ourselves. That is what makes us sovereign people. We rely on ourselves for what we need but lean on others for connection and meaning.

What to Do When Crisis Hits

When we’re in crisis, the first priority is getting out of the crisis. You can’t take care of others. You’re in fight or flight. That’s what crisis is. It’s hard to think when we’re overwhelmed. It helps to have a plan beforehand. Here are some ideas:

  • Have a list go to people you can call to talk to. Include hotlines if you don’t have people you can trust.
  • Create a comfort box that contains things that help you be grounded. Some suggestions are tactile squeeze toys, photographs of happy times, coloring books and crayons, music, and hard candy to suck on. It can hold anything that distracts you in a happy, calm way.
  • Create a safe place and go there. This can be a corner of a room, a tree in the park, or your car. Sit there, away from the stimulating thing, until you feel calm again. Breathing helps.
  • Have a mantra or practice that helps you to stay grounded in your body. For example, you can say, “I am safe now” or practice tightening and releasing different parts of your body. So you can squeeze your eyes shut as you inhale, then exhale as you relax the muscles. Do this all over your body.

We want our closest partners to be there for us when the chips are down. Sometimes they can’t. When you’re both in overwhelm, it’s just not a realistic desire. Remember “Two people can’t be in crisis at the same time.” When this time hits, take care of yourself first. Insist on it.

Don’t expect your partner to hear you or even recognize that you have a need when they are overwhelmed too. Maybe he or she can, but it could be at the expense of his or her own health. It’s a lot to ask.

It’s okay to lean on family members or friends who aren’t in crisis. However, if the source of your crisis is your partner, don’t share that part with others. They may take sides and this can make the relationship worse. You don’t need others to agree that your situation is hopeless. You need people who will help you get back on your feet.

Recap

When you and your partner are in crisis:

  • Focus on getting out of the crisis first.
  • Prioritize yourself and meeting your own needs.
  • Take care of yourself.
  • Ask for what you want.
  • Lean on family, friends, a hotline, a therapist, but not someone else who is in crisis. Don’t add to their overwhelm.
  • Stay close and connected to your partner. Witness their struggle, but don’t attempt to help if you don’t have it to give.

This probably doesn’t feel very satisfying. We all want a lot from our partners. It’s really risky rescuing a drowning person because they often take you down with them. It’s the same as getting involved in someone else’s crisis. We can’t help if we’re depleted. Accepting it for what it is helps it to sting less.