Personal and Professional Gatherings
Attitude is Everything
By Vicki Hinze
Holidays are supposed to be happy times of celebration. Times when friends and families gather and share the joys of the season.
So why then are holidays the most stressful times of the year? Why do suicide rates soar? So many suffer depression and others are absolutely miserable?
In part, the very thing that brings us together–holidays–also brings to bear the greatest stresses.
Here are a few of the substantial stressors that magnify during the holidays:
There are more obligations and social events to host and/or attend. Gifts to buy, special meals to shop for and prepare, trees, houses–inside and out–classrooms, offices, stores or other workplaces or additional places (church, lodge, club) to decorate, presents to wrap, cards to send and a multitude of other preparations to make. Social obligations/engagements require extra preparation time (program practices, dishes to make, clothes to wear selected or shopped for, haircuts and so on).
If others are “coming home for the holiday” to your home, as glad as you’ll be to see them, that’s more tasks on your To-Do List. If you’re going home, there are travel plans and packing, making sure the car is ready for the trip or tickets to purchase and schedules to coordinate, and much more.
Holidays–even when we are looking forward to them–break routines and place extra demands on our schedules. They require preparation that demands extra efforts from us. If your schedule is normally hectic, during the holidays it can become frantic.
What can you do? The extra work isn’t going to minimize just because you wish it would. That means you have to act to make the effort less stressful. Here are a couple tips:
Prepare early. About the best favor you can do for yourself is to start your preparations early. Do as much as you can as far in advance as is practical to spread the additional tasks over a longer period of time.
Keep your sense of humor. When times or conditions or plans change and you have re-do some things or do them in a different way, keep your sense of humor.
Your positive attitude toward changes will directly impact how you and others around you react to them.
Be practical. Wear comfortable clothing and if you wear heels all day and you’re wearing them all night, expect your feet to hurt. Of course, they do. Take fifteen minutes and pamper them a little. It’s time well spent considering the extra wear inflicted on them.
Don’t over-commit. You’re already taking on extra tasks and duties and obligations. Don’t paint yourself into a position where you have no time to rest, relax or sleep. Being overly tired will wreck your holidays–and the holidays of those closest to you.
Who can cope well with the additional stresses from a weakened position?
Do your part, but let those who would skate out and leave the work all to you handle their parts, too. If you must, insist that they do.
You might lose a little holiday spirit in preparing early, but you’ll gain a little holiday sanity–and you won’t be exhausted, which is an additional stressor that just isn’t compatible with anyone having an enjoyable holiday or gathering.
Don’t over-indulge. This is the time of year when extra activity–physical, mental and emotional–causes weakened resistance and excessive anything will carry high costs.
Your engine is running at higher RPMs already. Add excess to it, and you could burn it up.
No one, nothing, can tolerate additional strain indefinitely and it not impact them. Remember that and protect yourself and your interests by adopting a moderation mantra.
In all aspects of your life, be moderate.
Holidays are emotional times. We have great expectations of joy and fun. We reminisce, wish for happier, simpler times or times with loved ones who are no longer with us.
We remember, often with longing, the magic we once felt during holidays we now do not feel. We hunger to find that feeling again–are elated if we do and disappointed if we do not.
Our emotions ride closer to the surface, our compassion is touched (which is why donations are highly elevated during the season) and our humanity is awakened from its mundane routine slumber.
That, in a sense, makes us more emotionally vulnerable than usual.
Then comes the cards with the family newsletters tucked in where everyone else has seemingly conquered the world in past year and we haven’t, so we feel like unaccomplished slugs.
In touch and informed of a years’ worth of life in two minutes versus living it all year long.
And the density of that two-minute “briefing” gives it an advantage on the emotional front.
If you back off a bit, you often see that your own year-in-brief reads just as dense as others but, being emotionally charged, you might find it difficult to back off far enough to see it clearly.
That leaves your emotional reaction up to you–makes it (as always) your personal responsibility.
If you want to gain that distance and get a better view, you will.
The truth is that simple, and that complex.
During the holidays, people are more impatient, more brusque, less tolerant and far more verbal than usual. They’re tired, cranky, stuck doing things they don’t want to do, and just plain resentful.
That makes for explosive events. Events where common sense, common decency and generic respect for others would ordinarily kick in, elusive.
People are far more apt not to exercise good judgment, sense or restraint. A typically abrasive person becomes obnoxious–and does so at a time when you have little patience for either.
When else would a swarm of people resort to violence over a doll or a playstation?
When else do you see adults squabble like children over this or that sale item or parking slot or place in line at a check-out counter?
The holidays bring out the best and worst in us.
In part, they do so because everyone’s emotions are raw and lurking just beneath the surface. But also because many more of us are wearing our emotions on the outside of our skin.
If we are aware of this and we caution ourselves to tamp down our initial reactions to irritants, then the pressure on our emotional triggers is reduced and our stress valves are less likely to crack under the strain.
If we don’t control ourselves and our emotions, then we blow gaskets.
And we deal with the fallout–often for a long time to come.
To reduce the emotional stress of the holidays, consider meditation, power naps, bubble baths, walks or other forms of exercise. The release of those extra endorphins brought on by exercise, the calming effect of relaxation techniques improves our moods, and natural mood enhancers lower stress.
Relationships and Relatives.
The holidays are a time of social gatherings with family and friends, coworkers and colleagues, associates and affiliates. Some of whom we are eager to see and spend time with, and some we would rather not.
Regardless of the type, that’s a fact of gatherings in general and holiday gatherings in specific, where we often have more obligatory functions to attend than we do purely enjoyable ones, where we freely choose those with whom we gather.
Most of us are philosophical about it. We minimize our exposure to the bad and thoroughly enjoy the good. Sometimes that is easier to do than at others, and sometimes we just bite the bullet and endure to avoid sacrificing a visit with those we wish to see.
There are occasions when we remove ourselves–skip the office party, the pot-luck dinner, the caroling–because dealing with the irritant is just more trouble than it’s worth.
Personal, family gatherings are more complicated.
Some of the relationships are easy, some are complex. And rarely is any one person privy to the inner-workings that define them.
This simplicity and complexity makes most holidays a mixture of good and bad for everyone. The majority of people adopt a relatives-are-relatives attitude and enjoy and endure and ignore and have a great time. In looking back, they remember the high and low points and little else.
For others, that annoying uncle or mouthy cousin or out-of-control guest (who is with the family every year to avoid being alone) wrecks the holiday.
If we realize this is a time when normal reactions are amplified, then the odds of a wrecked holiday diminish. Understanding aids endurance, and so tolerating the bad lessens to the significance of being pestered by a gnat.
If we don’t realize normal reactions are amplified, and we don’t check our emotions, then our endurance is shot. Tolerating the bad then takes on mammoth proportions, which is destined to wreck the holiday or gathering.
Diminish the challenges by recalling that each person is responsible for their own conduct and for making their personal emotional assessments. Each person sets their own gauge, marks their own measure.
When any one person attempts to impose their will on others in the group, two things happen:
1. Trouble grows exponentially.
2. The others’ right to make their own choices is negated and that breeds resentment which leads to rapid growth of additional trouble.
Remember that you are responsible for your actions. The only person upon whom you have the right to impose your will is you. It isn’t enough to know your limits, you must also know your limitations.
As noted, most take the bad with the good in gatherings–and hope the group is big and busy enough that they can avoid the irritant.
When that’s possible, it’s a blessing. But when it’s not, it doesn’t have to be brutal.
Negative interactions do color perceptions of the holiday/gathering, yet if we are not unrealistic in our expectations for the event, we are better able to accept these interactions as a fact of life.
Acceptance can go a long way to negate brutality.
Several years back, a co-workers opted out of attending the office’s Christmas dinner. She didn’t give an excuse, just said she wouldn’t be there.
Some coworkers gave her hell for that decision. Some of us knew she had a rough relationship with another coworker who would attend, and we invited the opt-out coworker to a Christmas lunch.
She had to deal with this problem woman at work. She didn’t have to deal with her socially, and she elected not to do so.
Her call, her decision.
Now what measure it took for her to arrive at that decision only she knows.
What measure it would take for one to arrive at such a decision only that one individual knows.
But whatever the measure, it’s that individual’s and they own it.
In a perfect world, others should and would respect it.
In our world, which is far from perfect, some will and some won’t.
Either way, others’ respect or resentment isn’t something the individual can control.
The individual’s concern then is in those things s/he can control. Those things are personal responsibility and accountability: inherent, immutable parts of every personal choice.
Seasonal stresses bring into play all the dynamics within a given group, and seldom is one seasonal stress exclusive.
More often it’s trigger one, trigger all.
Hosting a gathering creates an additional responsibility. Knowing that group (family or work or elective alliance) relations are messy and you can’t control the dynamic between this and that individual, you do what you can to create a harmonious situation and hope for the best.
If a person gets too far out of line and makes many others miserable, nix that challenge.
No gathering should require many to suffer the machinations of one who can’t or won’t grasp that everyone would like to have a good day.
The holidays are a time of traditions. Some are big, public, corporate-wide. Some involve the entire family and some are small, individual or between just certain family members.
Every year, a friend held a come-one, come-all feast. The family and friends invited had dinner in the dining room. But the kitchen table was always set with her best china and crystal–in memory of those loved ones who had passed over.
While some guests didn’t grasp the significance and thought the place settings were for guests who hadn’t shown up, to this woman, this tradition was a loving tribute to those who had gone before her. I always admired that tradition.
Whatever your personal traditions might be, take joy in them. These are the things to start early with your children and carry through to the time when they become adults. It helps them to define the holidays, and the significance placed on the tradition and what it symbolizes to you and your family.
What are you celebrating?
Often people get so caught up in the hoopla over the holiday that the reason for the celebration is lost. They’re mired in the ancillary trappings and goings-on and lose sight of the purpose.
It happens easily, and often without notice, but when it does, that spark that makes the holiday magical is lost.
The reminder of purpose doesn’t have to be complex or elaborate. Simplicity is a thing of beauty. For example, on Thanksgiving, we gather for the traditional turkey meal, and we go around the table, each stating what we’re especially thankful for in our lives. Some of the responses are heartwarming, some tender, some humorous. It’s a little tradition, but it reminds all of us our purpose in gathering, and it gives us insight into each other.
During the holiday season, we have to be people who define not by individual or singular events. We have to be people who define by sums. When we add all this with all that, the sum is more good than bad.
When we add all the extra stresses with all the moments of laughter and giggles and all the memories that make us fondly long for past times, when we experience all that makes us a little nostalgic, a little giddy or a little sappy, we have to be people of sums. People who are grateful for what we’ve had and known, and for what we have left, right now.
At times, it’s admittedly difficult to get to the place of sums. It’s not uncommon to be in a room full of people and feel totally alone. Or to be in a room full of people and wish you were totally alone.
A mixture of good and bad.
When you get beyond the clutter, the holidays just aren’t easy.
They bring out the best and worst in us.
And around us.
They layer on additional pressure when we’re already feeling pressured enough–or we’re feeling too pressured.
They create awkward situations as well as joyous ones.
Place added demands on our time, energy and money.
I could spew all the platitudes about holidays being warm and wonderful times of family and friends and good times. But we all know that’s only half of the story.
Like families and life, holidays are messy, and a combination of good and bad, happy and sad, hard and easy. To see only half is to have an idealized vision of what the holidays should be and that is destined to disappoint–and it also ignores the validity of those who are lonely, emotional and experiencing the very real other half: the half of less than stellar experiences.
The holidays are a time of magic and havoc.
They and their gatherings are eagerly anticipated, enjoyed and endured, and a relief when done.
All holidays will be a blend of both halves–the idealistic and the realistic.
I hope when the scales balance on them, your holiday and its gatherings will be heavily weighted on the side of joy and fond memories.
If it shouldn’t work out that way, take heart.
There’s always next year…❧
WAR GAMES #5, KILL ZONE, 7/09