How to Manage Family Stress When Tensions Run High, According to Experts
From Thanksgiving up until New Year's Day, your calendar may be filled with the usual workout classes and brunch dates, but a ton of family time and prep is likely inked in your planner, too. And, inevitably, all that togetherness comes with a heaping side of stress. "Even just traveling to get to your family can be stressful," says Lauren Porat, founder and owner of YogaSpark Studios in New York City and Westchester County.
When it comes to stress (and stress-busting), Porat knows what she's talking about: She switched to a career on the yoga mat after working for years as an investment banker. "There are so many triggers, including food, the pressure of hosting, prior conflicts and the like, and any of these can easily make stress levels rise," she adds.
Crystal Marie Higgins, a San Francisco-based yoga instructor at YogaWorks, agrees. "It can be hard to find the balance between self-care and familial needs, making [the holidays] a challenging time to remain calm, balanced, and grounded," she says. However, it's possible to ease the tension that comes along with family season by employing certain mindful practices that reduce anxiety while also curbing any potential bad behaviors.
Since this time of year is supposed to be merry and bright (right?), check out what a few Zen pros have to say about staying chill when emotions fire up.
1. Create a daily routine of some type
Kyle Gray, the author of Raise Your Vibrations, says a daily spiritual practice can be as simple as "a choice you make, or an intention for the day." That might just mean going outside to get a bit of morning light every single day—nothing more, nothing less. Spiritual guru and Well+Good Council member Gabby Bernstein, meanwhile, recommends starting each day by writing in a gratitude journal in order to set the right tone for the day.
The idea behind this is that the creation of a ritual will help you feel stable and secure regardless of where you are, who you're with, or what's brewing in the kitchen: cocktails, convo, or maybe a little bit of communication breakdown.
2. Don't set unrealistic expectations
"Remember, we cannot control others," says Higgins, "but we can control how we show up when things get challenging." Translation? Set the tone for the holiday weekend. By showing up as your authentic self, says Higgins, you'll help lift the others around you without saying a word. However, keep in mind that everyone may be stressed and may not be able to handle said stress as adroitly as you can. (You can also point them back to this story here if things get really sticky.)
3. Create a to-do list
When you feel like you have way too many tasks on deck, sitting down and listing out chores, phone calls, and other to-dos will help reduce your anxiety almost instantly. "Most of my stress is derived from feeling there's an unquantifiable amount of work to do during the holiday season," says Porat. "Creating lists—and consequently crushing them—helps me prioritize, tackle, and feel entirely in control."
Any yoga or meditation guru will always tell you that if you ever get lost in your practice, in your movement, or in your own head, stop whatever you're doing and just return to your breath, the most basic of life forces and processes. "When times get challenging, taking the time to pause and find my breath helps so much," says Higgins. "Just take simple in- and out-breaths with awareness."
5. Try a forward fold
Although simple in theory, the forward fold pose in yoga is not the easiest in practice—you really have to let go of everything, including your head, neck, and shoulders. That instantly relieves physical tension and helps calm your nervous system, says Porat. To do it, stand with your feet inner-hip-distance apart and drape your upper body over your legs, placing a big enough bend in your knees so that the torso rests on your thighs.
"Breathe deeply and feel the natural traction you're creating in your spine, encouraging length and space between the vertebrae," says Porat. Remain for one or two minutes, working to straighten legs while keeping your head heavy and taking longer, deeper breaths. "Setting aside the few minutes to do this stretch is an act of self-care and stress relief," she adds.
6. Make time for a cup of tea
Grab your favorite herbal wellness blend and use it as a moment for a mindfulness exercise. "Be present during the process of preparing and steeping your tea," says Higgins, "then take a few warm, soothing sips and breathe." The Numi Organic Turmeric blends are her choice these days, but any herbal blend should suffice. Plus, it's a great way to fold family into the de-stressing mix. "Coming together over a pot of tea always feels like a peaceful and present opportunity to connect with others," she says.
7. Be kind to everyone—including yourself
While you may not want to stomach all that stress, you've got a slew of techniques in your pocket now to diffuse difficult situations. Therefore, lead by example. So when your aunt says that inevitable something that sets you off, before you immediately react, suggests Higgins, pause, take that breath, and then decide how—or if—you want to respond at all. Because you know how the saying goes: If you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all.
"Instead of telling someone what to do or how to act," says Higgins, "model it yourself. If your family members see you showing up more authentically, they will notice."
Keep self-care front of mind this holiday season by indulging in one of these luxe homemade bath elixirs or a mood-boosting DIY face mask.
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