A Drama-Free Zone

Or Putting the Fun Back into Dysfunctional

A wise man once told me that every family, since the biblical beginning of the human race, has some dysfunction; even Eve had an impulse control issue and just had to take a bite of that apple. We can, however, choose to put some fun back into our own version of dysfunction. For a myriad of reasons, navigating the holiday season can be like tiptoeing through a minefield littered with emotional explosive devices.

High expectations crafted by the Hallmark Channel, historical events, financial stress, a never-ending gift list and sugar-overload can certainly contribute to overwhelm. And most of us have to deal with at least one certifiably crazy family member during the waning days of the year. You know the type, the one who knows just which boundary to cross, which snarky comment to make or which throbbing hot button to push to send us careening over the guardrail of sanity. Never mind the over-imbibers, incestuous uncles, drunk drivers, narcissists and drama queens that seem to slither out of the woodwork as the days get shorter.

Here are a few tips to help minimize Holiday Aggravation or what I like to call HAG:

  1. Self-care: It sounds unbearably simple, but it is easy to let the little things go while our to-do list expands and our patience wanes. Be sure to get enough sleep, drink enough water, get some exercise (even if it’s just an extra lap or two around the mall) and don’t forget to breathe. Yep, create a trigger to remind yourself to take in some deep breaths though your nose during the course of the day. Maybe you do it every time your cat appears or every time you hear a certain annoying commercial on Pandora…whatever it is, oxygenating your brain reduces stress.
  2. Simplify: Do you really need to buy something for your ex-husband’s Aunt Edna’s sister-in-law? We create more pain for ourselves trying to be the Colossal Christmas Queen or King by making everybody else giggle that we forget about the most important person in the room, OURSELVES! You know the drill, put your own oxygen mask on first etc, etc. The world will not end if you don’t make 27 different kinds of Christmas cookies, and sugar is poison anyway. Be clear on what your overarching goal for the season is and pace yourself. Mine is having fun, so if I can’t find a way to make it fun, it get’s launched off the list.
  3. Get to know and control your overwhelm cycle: This requires some critical self-reflection. Think back through your past and ask yourself “What could I have done differently to avoid that drama?” There is usually a pattern that we repeat out of habit, and just being aware that we can choose to intervene in that cycle and do life a little differently from now on can be empowering. Your spouse will thank you for this practice, trust me.
  4. Don’t take anything personally: This applies especially to the aforementioned wacky relative. Don Miguel Ruiz says it best in The Four Agreements. “Nothing others do is because of you, but rather a projection of their own reality. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering. “ So put away your Pooh jammies and don your Teflon spidy suit…let nothing unkind stick to your unguarded soul.
  5. Maintain your sense of humor. There are very few things that can’t be looked back on with a bit of glee. When tempted to overreact to a snafu, refer to item #3 above and then ask yourself “In the overall scope of life, does this really matter?” And then turn it into one of those family stories that can be resounded with hilarity in the years to come.
  6. Declare that this will be the best holiday you’ve ever had and then be the JOY you wish to see in the world.

by Mary Lotto Ross