Force Field: 3 Ways to Protect Against Family-Induced Stress

The holidays are upon us and even if you were toying with the idea of canceling certain relatives, it's too late now- your bags are packed and the Uber will be here in 5. What you need is a plan.

2021 has been brutally divisive and many families are suffering from an excess of preconceived notions with a lack of genuine communication. Add in normal family idiosyncrasies and incredibly taxed nervous systems and there's a whole lot of potential for misunderstandings, pricklyness, and other suffering.

If you're anxious about heading into the middle of all that- well, you sound completely normal! But while anxiety is great at playing Ghost of Christmas Future and helping us to plan for eventualities (*cough* worst-case-scenarios), it also ramps up our reactivity and makes it so much harder to be our grounded, responsive, best selves.

What you need is a strategy for being in full possession of your own power- responsive instead of reactive, sensitive without being taut, flexible without being a pushover.

As Brené Brown puts it: "Don't shrink. Don't puff up. Just stand your sacred ground."

Read on for 3 important ways to protect yourself from stress and anxiety!


1. What Would Be Most Nourishing Right Now?

This is a mantra and I want you to use it religiously.

Ask yourself this before your eyes open in the morning and, as much as your situation allows, do what it says.

Would a shower be most nourishing right now? A walk and a hot drink? A few minutes to read before you admit you're awake? Start there. Now what would be most nourishing? Do that. And now what? (Remember that movement is absolutely fundamental to processing feelings- be sure to also build in plenty of physical activity that bring you joy.)

Let this question create a path of stepping stones to lead you safely across hostile waters.

When you orient each day to your own nourishment- of all kinds: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual- then you move with a sense of your own strength that keeps other peoples choices in perspective: they're just being them. You can't control anything they say or do, you can only control yourself. And your self is going to be in a much better state when its needs are being met.

Follow your own nourishment religiously and you'll be much more resilient and responsive in everything you do. You'll be healthier and happier too! And if there are ways to invite others to join you in your nourishment, you'll also be creating a bridge to deeper connection and communication. In other words: healing.

Important: do not wait until you feel triggered to start this! This is preventive medicine. If it's not too late, even use this question to guide you in packing for your trip. Maybe bringing work with you isn't the most self-supportive idea- how about hiking boots or bath bombs or some Rilke instead? The more nourishment you get before you enter The Situation, the better off you'll be.

by Anastasiya Dobrovolskaya

2. It's Happening For You, Not To You

Here's another small-but-revolutionary perspective shift.

When we're born or married into a family that we don't seem to belong in or that is even hostile towards us, it's very easy for a victim mentality to creep in. In fact, you may actually be a victim, but whether you are or not, the sense of helplessness that characterizes the victim mentality is of no use to you here.

Instead, look for the medicine. All of this is happening for you. Why? What reflections of your own behavior are you being gifted with? What opportunities to grow or connect or learn are right under your nose? What are the things you always do the same way with your family- those notorious ruts- and what small tweaks can you do make to get different results?

Pain is a portal. Using our own suffering to learn and grow doesn't justify others' bad behavior, but it does allow us to find something positive- often downright precious- amid all the sharp points.
photographer unknown

3. Get Curious

Along with nourishing yourself and seeing challenges as medicine, I want you to practice just noticing what's going on inside yourself. In our obsessively externalizing world, it's something we can all get more practice with.

Anytime someone says something that makes you stiffen or burn up or feel like you can't support your own weight (insert your common reactions here), take that as an invitation to go inward and check out what's happening inside your body. What are you feeling and where? Skip feeling-names like 'angry' or 'sad' and focus instead on the shape, texture, temperature and colors of what you're experiencing. Is it a bruise-colored cloud with electricity snapping from your chest to your fingertips? A sticky, stringy, cold neon tangle in your gut? That's the good stuff, there. Take some deep breaths right into the heart of that mess.

Describing the actual appearance or sensations of what we're feeling is the best way to connect with our emotions because it sidesteps the stories we associate with their names- stories that can complicate things with another layer of feelings like shame or judgment.

Once you've identified the feeling and its lair, breathe acknowledgement and tenderness toward it. This uncomfortable sensation is simply information. It's your body communicating with you, trying to keep you safe. Write down what it has to say, what it reminds you of, what it brings up.

It may be that this feeling has advice for you that's actually useful in your situation or it may just need to know that you're listening. Either way, let the feeling run it's course before you act on it (or not).

Another thing to get curious about are the patterns we find ourselves in with family- whether they're the family we were born into, or they came attached to a partner.

Are you yourself? Are there things you wish you could do or say, but feel that you're not 'supposed to'? Or, on the other hand, are there things you feel you're supposed to do, even though you don't want to? Where do these feelings take you?

This may not be the time to make changes, but just observing yourself in this environment can provide so much insight into family dynamics and how they affect us. Journal about whatever comes up, give yourself space to breathe and center yourself and you will find gold among the crap!

Pamela Singh, Chipko Women Hug Tree to Protect it from Being Cut in Northern Uttar Pradesh, 1994

Whatever you've got ahead of you, I know these strategies will help you move through difficult situations with more ease and grace.

Now it's your turn!

• What has helped you in these situations in the past?

Please share your wisdom in the comment section!

• A lot more of us are struggling than we realize- share this article with someone else who might need it!

• If you're curious about working with me 1:1, click the button below to get more information, then email me to set up a FREE 30 minute discovery call.

Can't wait to hear from you!

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