The holidays are a massive breeding ground for triggers and autopilot reactivity! AND – also an opportunity to practice your skills! Are you ready? Are you skilled up to get through drama free this year? Well, I’ve got ya covered with some simple practices for overriding reactivity in the heat of the moment.
Why Family is a Trigger
Ever wonder why your family can push your buttons like no one else? . . Because they installed them of course! Your pet peeves, triggers, and hot buttons (your Passengers) got programmed into the subconscious of your mind-body vehicle from repeated experiences along your journey.
As you plan your trips home this year, your mind is likely to start offering up a whole buffet of expectations, assumptions, and judgments about the festivities. Before you know it, your arm is out for another refill of your wine glass, a second and third helping of food, and endlessly checking your phone. Anything but staying truly present to the litany of small, and not so small annoyances, which contact with the programmers of our passengers can elicit!
This Year Will be Different
But this year, I got your back! We are not going to let you wake up to find that video of you passed out, cuddled up with the family cat under the Christmas tree on Facebook! We are not going to go down that same road of trying to explain your feelings to your dad (which he never understands!), leaving you feeling intermittent waves of anger and sadness the entire visit!
We are not going to let you repeat the same old patterns of struggle that have left you miserable and exhausted every year!
Instead, we are going to be skillful!!
Steps for Skillfulness with Family
Step I: Cope Ahead!
The key is to be prepared! This means knowing your passengers around family and the holidays. Can you identify the specific family situations/behaviors that trigger you? Can you label the precise emotions, thoughts, and impulses that arise when the trigger event happens?
It’s essential that you identify them before you go into the trigger zone (i.e. home for the holidays)! Not sure? Then, go back and use the Dashboard form to identify the specific thoughts/beliefs, emotions, and autopilot reactions that tend to get you into trouble.
Step II: Practice Ahead!
As with any skill, you can only master effective emotion regulation skills with practice. Once you have identified the triggers and passengers that you will be up against, you will need to practice with them. So we have to take the scenarios you imagine triggering you and couple them with skillful responding.
For example, imagine that every year you get triggered when our aunt Judy asks you about your dating life.
Practicing ahead means:
1. Actively bringing this scenario to mind.
2. Labeling the thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations/impulses.
3. Attending to these reactions mindfully and skillfully.
Step III: The Skills
Skillfulness with The Body
One of the best ways to override a trigger reaction is to slow it down in your body. This first video shows you how to slow the stress response and activate the relaxation response with your breath.
Skillfulness with Thoughts:
Once you are a bit more calm, the idea is to stay present and non judgmental. Here is a mantra for anchoring your attention, so you can maintain your equinamity.
Notice when you start getting pulled into a mind habit of judging, time traveling, or spacing out. Practice this mantra (or one that works for you) to anchor your mind in the present moment. This will help you reduce vulnerability to emotion mind and related unhelpful behavioral reactions.
Skillfulness with Emotions:
Fighting the difficult emotions that can come up with family is likely to just make them worse. This practice will teach you to balance opening up to your emotions, while taking an opposite action position in the body.
The Holidays and Beyond
This time of year can bring up so much for so many. For some it’s a joyous time. For equally as many, this time can carry a burden of memories of lost loved ones or ideals, judgments about how it should or shouldn’t be, or anxiety about expectations.
The holidays also highlight a singularly important awareness; it is not what happens to us, but what we bring to the experience that causes suffering. Each of us has our own difficulties on our journey. With skillfulness, we may begin to see beyond the old programming and lessen the addition of unnecessary suffering.
To start building your own Mindful-Mastery practice plan, check out my new book: Mastering Adulthood: Go Beyond Adulting to Become an Emotional Grown-Up. If you have questions about how to be skillful in your life, I hope you will send me a message in the comments section! Or sign up for the Mindful-Mastery SKILL WEEKLY newsletter, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube for the NEW SKILLS CLIPS for guided practice!
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