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Destressing the Holidays

Updated: Jan 2, 2022

This journey I started into rediscovering my authentic self after feeling lost in motherhood has me questioning myself; specifically, my desire is to rid myself of irritability, anger, jealousy, loneliness, despair, and even feeling inadequate. This has been the hardest part of the journey for me figuring out how to give myself permission to feel all these feelings.

Every weekday morning, my kids and I open up Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett, Ph.D. and look at the mood chart to identify how we feel and focus a short little meditation to change that feeling or intensify it. I have no problem letting them work through their feelings of frustration and anger, but I do not give myself the same opportunity. I think I’ve been working so hard; I shouldn’t get caught up in these emotions anymore. Then I hear Gwendolyn Doyle’s voice in my head saying, “We Can Do Hard Things.” Therefore, in order to move through these feelings, first, I need to be proactive identifying possible stressors, and then, I need to own these feelings, learn to react to them, and take action to release them.

Christmas time and traveling to see family always pushes many of these feelings to the surface. This year I tried to be a little proactive to deal with some of the stressors before they became overwhelming. For instance; buying presents, packing, and making plans for our anniversary & New Year’s plans cause me stress which inevitably lead to the biggest fights I have with my husband. We are always with his family at this time, so they must think I’m crazy.

This year picking out these stressors and identifying ways to take actions to complete them led to less arguments. When we did argue, these arguments did not turn into the drawn-out grudge feast of the past. In previous years, I would avoid these tasks which would cause they feelings to bottle up and lead to an ugly release. With the skills I have learned I was able to release the tension and move on. Though I was angry at myself for still having these tensions and questioning my growth. It’s the acceptance that being human means, they will happen that is hard. Doyle’s voice echoes again, “We can do hard things.”

Being proactive, gives me actions I can take to have some control over the situation. However, as I accept my human faults, I also have to realize the only true control you have is how you react, including the inevitable curve balls life throws at you that you never see coming. These challenges used to send me into a never-ending tailspin, but by working on my reactions to these situations I have grown. Even if I do not always give myself credit for this personal growth.

This year’s curve ball for my family was COVID. After we finally made it through the stressor of packing and loading the car. As we are about to get onto the freeway, a call from the kids’ school notified us that a child has been in close contact. As I tried to process the news and what it meant to our plans, I hung up not knowing which child. Fortunately, Bill’s cellphone rang, and I put it on speaker to realize I hung up before the message was over and now, we know it was Lily who had been in close contact. Instantly, our new mission was to find a rapid testing site and await results.

The first place we stopped had a hand written note saying they were closed for another hour. We decided to head to another nearby site, but being so close to Christmas the line was wrapped around the building. A kind nurse warned us with the high demand that results would take longer than normal. We had hoped to get the results during the 4-hour drive to Bill’s parent’s house, but that didn’t seem possible anymore. Bill looked in vain for other sites, but in the end, we headed home while stopping at every Walgreens looking for at home tests which apparently had been out of stock for the last three weeks.

We returned home to a barren refrigerator, Liam screaming, “See we could have eaten the leftover chicken,” and continuing to scream at Lily blaming her for not being at grandma’s house on his birthday, Christmas Eve. Trying to keep options open as we await results; a family pizza movie was in order as the kids got extra cuddles with the cats. If the results didn’t come in before 7, then we would be spending the night at home. Ultimately, the kids went to bed not knowing, and Liam under his breath blamed Lily again. She went to bed crying saying, “I ruined Christmas.” Trying to explain to a five-year-old that any of us could have been the culprit feels meaningless as tears dripped down her face.

As I watched the children tailspin, I realized that was what I would have done in the past. Instead, Bill and I worked together to create a fun movie night for them distracting them from their worries while we waited. And we spent time brainstorming what we would do if we were positive as all “the presents” were already in Michigan. We would figure out a way for Santa to make a long drive after the kids were in bed.

We did not get any results before we went to bed, but as I woke up at 2 am, two results were in both negative but neither Lily’s. As I looked, Bill woke up to see a third negative still not Lily’s and then a fourth negative but still not Lily’s. Thoughts that maybe they are double checking because hers was positive did start to circle my head. Finally, around 3, as we couldn’t sleep, her results came in negative. We were in the clear. As soon as the kids found out, they were rearing to go and all of us out the door by 8:30 am, the quickest ever.

Despite our predicament, we had a good family movie night. We did get lucky with only a delay of less than a day. As I shared my story with friends, I discovered that so many were separated from their family because of positive cases. We were lucky with only a scare and minimal disruption to our plans while others were isolated for the holidays. All this is out of our control, but our reactions are always in our control.

One last story that came up as I was writing this blog. A simple breakfast problem that would have sent me hiding in my room for an hour in the past. Bill’s dad asked him what type of eggs he wanted for the kids. We had talked about omelets but that wasn’t brought up. I sat there silent stewing, and then took the stewing to my room. I laid there while I pondered I could either use my voice and do something about my feelings or I could sit here and stew making them worse. I chose action and went downstairs asked if I could help to cut vegetables and ended up making omelets for both myself and my mother-in-law. I had assumed I’d be in the way when I was stewing but didn’t know for a fact. It doesn’t have to be huge decisions that make a big difference. It’s all these little decisions that add up to big change.

My advice to you is to start by being proactive with your stressors. Since the holidays are fresh in your mind now. Make a list of all your major stressors from this Christmas or preplan for New Years, then brainstorm ways to alleviate them. I have attached my brainstorm chart for the holidays and left a blank one for you to try. However, since you can’t be prepared for everything, completing self-care gives you the ability to work through your feelings with better reactions, quicker recovery, and giving yourself grace when some don’t work out. Comment below with a stressor that you identified and how you brainstormed for it.

Our Circle of Grace Brainstorm Chart
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