Christmas is coming and…

December 23, 2008

I’ve been wondering if the goose’s weight fluctuation was a result of stress eating. Normally, this is the “Oh-when-will-I-wrap-ship-buy-cook-decorate-call-address-stamp-clean-and-even-celebrate” time of year. It’s about now I start cursing cultural traditions and hope my friends can wait another year to see a photo of our children.

To make the season extra interesting, let’s add a recession. I’ve noticed that not only are folks struggling with budgeting the financial outlays, but also with determining the appropriateness of their actions. Traditions can be comforting in that we do the same thing every year. But this year, do you hang lights outside and spend that extra cash on electricity? Do you make cookies for all your friends or will that put them in an uncomfortable situation? My family is now laughing since I have never pulled off either of the above in good times…but you get the drift of the internal questioning. We’ve added the stress of asking “what’s right?” to “how do I get this all done?” 

About ten years ago, Angeles Arrien shared an analogy upon which I rely. She said, when we are under stress, tired or otherwise preoccupied we should see ourselves as standing on one foot. Precariously balanced we can easily be pushed over and so, in these instances, we must pay careful attention.

Given the season and the current climate, I propose that many people will be standing on one foot during holiday meals. They may be dressed up and putting on the best face possible, but may also be wishing they could be hiding at home. So, how do we enjoy the holidays and the people with whom we are gathered?

First, I’d assume that everyone is emulating a flamingo. Don’t expect others to be ready for anything. I’d treat everyone, including you, gently. These are not ordinary times, so if someone loses it, we might want to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Next, look for telltale signs of stress and don’t take others personally. In  The Way of Conflict

 I describe four default conflict styles. Each displays unique and often unsavory characteristics when afraid. So, if someone:

  1. Gets really quiet or stubborn
  2. Becomes passive/aggressive or negative
  3. Impatiently barks at you, or
  4. Regales you with “the real facts,” and your stupidity,

 …recognize that person is struggling. Your dinner party partner is teetering on her one standing leg. As the person falls you might want to give her some room, or get out of the way!

Last, create the right frame of mind.  When we are stressed or terrified we gravitate to the fight/flight portion of our brains. There in our reptilian brain, we lash out as described in the previous paragraph. However, we can trick ourselves into using the calmer and more rational neo-cortex by focusing on learning, gratitude or play.  See my “Tips for Turkey Day” for applying mind shifting to a holiday meal.

Christmas is coming and Hanukkah is here. I hope the holiday season brings you all its best along with some time to regroup and recover.

Deidre Combs

Deidre Combs is the author of three books on cross-cultural approaches to resolving conflict and overcoming challenges:  The Way of ConflictWorst Enemy, Best Teacher  and Thriving Through Tough Times. The books integrate perennial wisdom from the world’s lasting cultural traditions with systems theory and brain research.

Dr. Combs is a management consultant, executive coach, mediator and core instructor in Montana State University’s Leadership Fellows Certificate Program and Columbia University’s Teacher’s College Global Competence Certificate Program. Since 2007, she has also taught intensive leadership training to State Department-selected students, teachers and professional leaders from throughout the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Eurasia, Latin America and Pakistan’s FATA region.

Related Posts