12/08/2013 11:20 EST | Updated 02/07/2014 05:59 EST

When "Family Holiday Culture" Gets in the Way of "Me Time"

"Family-Holiday Culture" has a massive influence on us. We are genetically and socially programmed to seek out being a part of this culture. But what if the group or the family culture we belong to, especially at holiday time, causes us pain, worry, fear, sadness, guilt, shame, rage, and most importantly the loss of our own "Self-Culture," our authentic relaxed self?

Finding and keeping your "Self-Culture" especially during the holidays can be tricky yet necessary especially if the family-culture is fraught with conflict and drama. Getting lost in the drama can lead us to an acute increase in depression and anxiety laced with good doses of self sabotage including binging on Christmas cake, Chanukkah chocolate Gelt or worse including drinking excessively, all in a bid to numb it all out.

Here are some tried and true ways to find and keep your "Self-Culture" alive as you make your way through the holidays without a scratch!

1. Adjust Your Expectations of Yourself and Others:

The fastest way down the rabbit hole of deep disappointment and eventual depression over the holiday season is having inappropriate expectations of yourself and others. Don't get wrapped up in the sappy holiday commercials! Get real with yourself before walking in the door of a family occasion lest you be blindsided by the old family dynamics which will certainly lead to fights, hurt feelings and the occasional storming out drama!

If you choose not to be holed up alone during the holidays, commit to yourself, that for the time you are with your family, you will stay realistic about your own limitations as well the limitations of the family-culture.

2. Embrace "Selfyness":

I like the made-up word "selfy" (by the way not "selfie," which the kids use today as they refer to taking picture of self with their smart phones!) Give yourself guilt free permission to develop an attitude of "selfyness" during the holidays. This means seeing yourself as a priority. Only saying yes when you want to and taking personal responsibility for your own self-care. Allow your voice and thoughts to be the loudest in your own head.

Ask yourself "What do I need to take care of me now?" Treat yourself as a kind and benevolent parent would treat you. Especially at holiday time, fill your own cup first, develop an overflow and give to others from that overflow only. Burn out and resentment are the bitter side effects of giving to others from an empty vessel.

3. Have an Escape Plan:

If the family-culture dynamic is super toxic you may decide to not participate in a holiday with them at all. But if it is just your run of the mill family irritation drama, you still need to check in with yourself often to determine what you are feeling and needing. You may need to take a time-out in order to clear your thoughts and to hear your own voice within. Don't just grin and bear it! That's the fastest way toward an explosion or turning inward into a dark place.

Instead, give yourself some space. Make sure you bring warm outdoor gear with proper footwear. If needed, you can quickly decide to go for a healthy mind-clearing walk. Or make sure you have enough money on you for a cab. If you are driving yourself then make sure you are fit to drive!

4. Anxiety Tool Box!:

• Separate what you have control over from what you do not. Know that you do not have control over outcomes and other people's reactions and actions.

• Don't overwhelm yourself. Deal with one thing at a time. Keep it simple. Know your limitations and don't take on more than you can handle.

• Breathing. Deep, slow and conscious breathing is by far the simplest and most-effective tool for relaxation when anxious. Try breathing in for three slowly and out for three slowly. Build to a slow six count in and out.

• Visualization. Positive, relaxing visualization capitalizes on the fact that your brain does not seem to differentiate between real or perceived events. Find a quiet place. Create a peaceful place in nature in your mind, such as a beach. This can be very effective for calming anxiety quickly.

5. Good Boundaries:

When does being generous become being a doormat? Over the holidays it can be very tempting to not have clarity about your boundaries because often guilt and the disease to please rear their ugly heads. When we don't set appropriate boundaries, we run the risk of becoming resentful, depressed, overwhelmed and inauthentic. Drawing boundaries is more about defining what is acceptable to you and letting others know about it in a peaceful, clear and decided way.

6. Watch Inner Negative Running Commentary:

Regularly bring your awareness to your inner running commentary. Watch what you are saying to yourself. Negative inner dialogue stealthily destroys the person's well being by attrition. It's like the frog placed in cold water that slowly boiled to death, unaware that it was in danger.

As soon as you are aware that you are in a negative Nancy inner tirade, begin to say these affirmations slowly. (Believing them or not is irrelevant.)

• All is well. I am safe.

• Everything is working out better than I expect.

• I am supported by life at all times.

Know that a spoon full of positivity helps the holiday ride go down way easier!

The holidays are a cesspool of triggers for most of us. So as you sip on your eggnog, suck on a candy cane and loosen your pants after the meal with your kin folk this holiday season, know that even though the family-culture landscape can be rocky and rough at times, you can use the tools above to help you safe guard your "Self-Culture" and your sanity as you dash your way through the snow and jingle your bells this season!


5 Strategies To Reduce Holiday Stress