Post-election holiday gatherings are on the horizon.
Normally stressful family gatherings are likely to be even tenser this year. In these divisive times, heightened emotions – frustration and resentment are likely to be close to the surface for many.
So how does one keep an unflustered mind in such a pressure cooker?
The first thing to bear in mind is that in a disagreement each party believes they are right. So there's no point in trying to change the other person's perspective. The fact is things are not as black and white as we’d like to think or believe; in reality things are nuanced and fluid. In arguments, there’s usually a grain of truth to both sides’ opinions. We run the risk of creating a heated argument if we defend our opinion or explain the faults of the opposing view.
So it is important to figure out in advance what truly matters to you in your relationships with people who hold different views to yours.
To begin ask yourself, “in my relationship with _____, what matters most to me?” Are you more interested in proving your point, convincing the other person, or showing the flaws of the other person's view? Or might your focus be more on maintaining a healthy and cordial, even if not happy, relationship with this person? Do you value this person and would you like to continue having this person in your life?
With your intention clearly in the forefront of your mind, decide in advance how you will deal with any difficult interaction at the gathering.
Prepare by considering the following suggestions:
Become comfortable with Challenges:
Usually when we face a challenge our self-defensive coping kicks in, and causes us to retreat or panic. We struggle to control our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviors; in this state it is easy to lose sight of our goal of being polite or cordial. The best way to disrupt this biological evolutionary reaction is to identify in advance the triggers that will cause you to lose your calm.
Train to be less sensitive by deliberately challenging yourself to face small uncomfortable situations. Maybe at work spend a little time with someone who is mildly irritating to you. Pay attention to your feelings and calmly label them. This will clear and calm your mind and emotions.
Also think about all the times in the past when you lost your temper. Is there a particular type of situation that is triggering for you? How did your body react to pressure? What was going through your mind? How did you feel? Probe these experiences by writing down your discoveries and reflections.
On the day of the event, relieve stress by going for a brisk walk or to the gym, by doing yoga or meditation. Distract yourself to decrease anxiety. Call up a friend, or dance and sing as you prepare your holiday meal.
Communication is more than Words:
If it will help ease your anxiety, make a list of what you will speak about. Try practicing it in front of a mirror with a recorder, or maybe in front of a trusted friend.
Sometimes we are confused when we are misunderstood. This occurs when we are only focused on our word choice, and on what we want to say. Communication is more than words.
Shape your conversation around what the other person needs to hear from you rather than on what you want to say. This doesn't mean agreeing. It is about focusing more on our human need for being understood and accepted.
Ideally this will be a reciprocal process. If it is not, then remind yourself of your intention to continue having this person in your life. So be willing to create a space in your life for him or her. This may require being willing to give up being right or just choosing to be quiet. Or it can simply mean listening with an open mind and heart. Remind yourself that silence is okay.
We can also be misunderstood because our body and face may be communicating a different message than our conciliatory words. Your breathing, facial expressions, and the tension or relaxation in your body also reflect your attitude. Practice in front of the mirror or video yourself speaking, so you can become familiar with your facial and bodily expressions.
In the heat of the moment, or on the spot, you can stop a situation from escalating by bringing your mindful attention to the present moment; focus on your breathing, or the feeling of your body contacting the chair, or holding a glass.
The best way to remain calm is to enter a challenging situation knowing your triggers and your responses.
May you enjoy a peaceful family get-together.