With every Christmas and holiday season, we find ourselves repeating the same old patterns, year after year.
You read well-intended columns, much like this one, that suggest, “Just don’t do this” and you’ll be fine. Of course, if all it took was pure will-power, I’d suspect there’d be a lot less need for therapists.
So instead of telling you things you should or shouldn’t do, I’m going to suggest some simple strategies for actually sticking to those other lists.
We are profoundly influenced by our environment — and who is in it.
Many be unaware of just how much who we hang around with — and where we do that hanging out — can influence our behavior. Cacioppo et al. (2009), for instance, found that in our real-life social networks, things like loneliness and obesity could be traced from friend to friend, and from family member to family member. A family member who knows someone who’s lonely (or overweight) is at significantly greater risk for being lonely (or overweight) themselves.
During the holidays, we often do not have much of a choice about these things if we want to visit with family and friends. But you may have more choice about how you eat and drink than you know.
Reduce overeating during meals.
While those around you might be heaping their plates with food piled as high as they can, you don’t have to follow in their footsteps. Instead, create a normal plate with normal-sized portions.
The key to not over-eating is simple — learn to savor each bite. This mindful approach to eating means you are going to try and focus more on the experience of food. It means enjoying more of your senses as you’re eating — not just your taste buds.
Take a minute and observe the vibrant colors of the food on your plate. Cut a small piece of food, and bring it to your mouth. Smell it, and take a second or two to actually allow yourself to experience the smell of what it is you’re eating. Put it in your mouth, chewing it thoroughly, and then put your fork down for a few seconds. Take a drink of water or your favorite beverage.
Pick up for your fork again and choose another bite from something different on your plate. Again, take time to notice how it looks, how it smells, and chew slowly. Put your fork down. Take another drink.
Eating mindfully is about eating slowly, and taking the time to actually experience and appreciate the bounty you are ingesting. It’s not just fuel for your body, it can also be food for your soul.
Removing yourself from the same old behaviors, the same old arguments.
It happens as reliably as the rise of the morning sun. You find yourself inevitably drawn into the same old patterns of behaving around your family that you’ve outgrown everywhere else in your life. Such patterns are hard to stop (after all, you’ve been doing them for years, if not decades). But you can disrupt them temporarily.
Most of us recognize as we’re getting into the same old argument. The key is to not just recognize it, but to then take the next step and change your reaction to it. Remember — you are not a robot.
Your reaction should be like “Opposite George” from the old Seinfeld episode. George complained of his loser life, so he decided to try an experiment — he would do the opposite of what his natural inclination was. By the end of the day, he was mystified by how much different and more positive his life had become.
The reality is that just doing the opposite of your usual behaviors is unlikely to result in instantaneous changes in your life. But it can be a useful (and entertaining) model how taking the path you travel less can result in unexpected responses and behaviors from others.
Tired of bickering over the same old argument with the family? Try something different. Excuse yourself politely and just walk away, for instance. Or tactfully change the subject to something positive and enjoyable that’s recently happened in your life, or that of a family members. The key is to commit to just trying something different — anything.
You’re not perfect so don’t try to be.
One thing to keep in mind as you try out these ideas and ideas from all of our other holiday coping articles is to allow yourself the luxury of making mistakes. Nobody’s perfect — and that includes you. Try something out and see if it works. If it doesn’t, then maybe it’s not a good fit for you. Try something else instead.
Don’t fret if you can’t do something an expert suggests, or find it hard to follow some advice. You’re not perfect, so holding yourself up to some model of perfection is both unhealthy and detrimental.
I hope these ideas spark some own ideas of your own. I also always just try and keep in mind a mantra similar to, “It’s only for a short amount of time that I’ll be visiting with my family. I’ll let the little things go more than usual, because it’ll make things go more smoothly. I’ll be a better person for it as well.”
Cacioppo JT, Fowler JH, Christakis NA. (2009). Alone in the Crowd: The Structure and Spread of Loneliness in a Large Social Network. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.