Live Life Fully: 'Tis the season to be gentle with yourself

By Linda Arnold
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Just on the off chance your holidays are not totally Norman Rockwell, take a look at the following checklist.Right now I'm feeling:__ Jolly__ Frenzied__ Sad__ Lonely__ Overwhelmed__ All of the aboveAs a result, I've been:__ Kicking my system into overdrive__ Giving up sleep for the month of December__ Beating myself up for not getting everything done__ Unleashing my stress on those around me__ Hitting the eggnog more heavily If you checked more than one of these categories of feelings and results, you're not alone. It's normal to have all kinds of conflicting feelings this time of year -- 'tis the season. In case you were wondering, none of us can sustain that level of heartfelt awe in the Folgers coffee commercials or seasonal Hallmark movies.
Now that you have a reality check, consider a few of these tips gleaned from personal experience and the websites of the Mayo Clinic ( and Psych Central ( ahead for family/friend interactionsWrite down and rehearse a plan of action to cope with any negative triggers that may come up. Family systems tend to repeat patterns of behavior, often in an unconscious manner. Rather than allowing someone to push your buttons, think of some ways to respond that defuse the situation and/or help you stay true to your own boundaries. And resist the urge to push any other buttons!Change the patternsSometimes we get so ingrained in situations it's hard to see how things could change. And just the anticipation of coming events can be enough to throw us into a tailspin. If you truly want to change patterns about holiday meal preparations and cleanup sessions, start now to plant the seeds. Make alternative suggestions -- rotate the cleanup crews, for example.Over time, lots of resentment can be built up when the same family members are expected to clear the table and do the dishes while others retire to the family room to relax. If this is striking a nerve, take time to think through an alternative plan and communicate it in advance in the best way for your family members to understand -- a phone call, an email, etc. You could even fashion a suggested schedule that has a lineup of particular families or groups the task by age. As you're preparing the meal and sitting down to eat, you could issue a gentle reminder: "Let us give thanks to the Smith gang for tonight's cleanup." Or, "Thanks to our cleanup crew of teenagers tonight."
Make your own decisions about participatingAt times it's easier to go through the motions to keep the traditions -- and the peace. If you find this is wearing thin on your sanity, though, you could opt out of certain activities or lessen your involvement.Just because "It's always been done this way" doesn't mean it has to continue. And this goes for decorating, baking, sending out holiday cards and just about any other activity where it's just assumed you'll be there and come through for everyone. Ben Franklin had it right: "Everything in moderation." Or, as my friend Pam says, "Lower your standards."It may not be as hard as you think. Here are a few of my favorite phrases to try out: 
  • "That just won't work for me this time." (You'd be amazed at how thorough this one sentence can be. Most times, we tend to overexplain.)
  • "Here's an option I'd like to try this year."
  • "Let's look at a different schedule."
  •  Realize others may have stressDon't take rudeness or irritability too personally. Most of us are juggling more than usual this time of year -- responsibilities and emotions.Stuff the turkey, not your feelingsIt's perfectly natural to feel a roller coaster of emotions at this heightened time of reflection. If you have strong feelings of nostalgia or sadness, reach out to someone you trust to talk about your feelings.Practice random acts of kindnessGiving is receiving. There's nothing like helping someone else out, especially during this season, that can help you take your mind off your own problems. Do a little favor for an elderly neighbor. Take time to call a friend you haven't spoken with in a while. At the tollbooth, pay for the car behind you. Or pay ahead at the fast-food drive-through window. Ask them to apply a dollar to the order of the car behind you. Pop some change into an expired parking meter.You might be saying, "But they'll never know who helped them out." That's precisely the point. It's not about getting credit. It's about the pure intention of giving.Several years ago I was contemplating the purchase of a fuzzy white teddy bear in a store. I decided to get it. On the way out, I overhead a clerk talking about how she wanted to get that same bear for her daughter, but didn't feel like she could spend the money at that time. Something deep inside me urged me to turn around and go back into the store. I ended up purchasing another teddy bear and asked the cashier in that department to take it over to the other employee and tell her it was from Santa. I hid behind some store dividers to see her expression -- and left the store with such a warm feeling.She never knew the gift was from me. And it didn't matter. I just knew I was doing a little something to put a smile on her face and to brighten her daughter's holidays. To this day, I never pick up that fuzzy white teddy bear in our spare bedroom -- whatever the time of year -- without recalling that incident.And that's priceless!Linda Arnold, M.A., MBA, is a certified wellness instructor, counselor and chairwoman/CEO of The Arnold Agency, a marketing communications firm with offices in West Virginia, Montana and Washington, D.C. Reader comments are welcome and may be directed to Linda Arnold, The Arnold Agency, 117 Summers St., Charleston, WV 2530l or emailed to
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