Wednesday, November 27, 2019

How to Make Holiday Magic



The holidays can sometimes feel like one long list of obligations. You have to figure out which gifts to get for whom and how much you can afford to spend. You have to write holiday cards/notes/emails at least to some people, once again figuring out what to whom.

You have to figure out which relatives/friends you have to entertain, spend time with, tolerate, try not to argue with. You have to travel at the worst possible time of year given weather, traffic jams and airport/train station chaos. You have to jam your ordinary chores in with all the not-ordinary chores such as when are you going to find all that time to go shopping? Not to mention dealing with demanding, unruly, hyper children/grandchildren all along the way . . .

Ah, the holidays! But here’s the thing: the more you come at the holidays with a “have to” “got to” approach, the more harried and stressed you will be. Instead, if you adopt a “want to” “get to” approach, everything will go much better for you.

So before you dash off into the rain/sleet/snow/traffic to do whatever it is, take a moment to sit down and reflect.

What do you want to do in terms of gift-giving? There’s a world of difference between “I want to get Aunt Julia something she’ll really enjoy” and “I have to get Aunt Julia something decent.” Which feels better?

“I want to get my 5 year old a present she’ll enjoy and I have $20 to spend on her gift,” versus “I have to somehow manage to get my 5 year old something she’ll like on just a measly $20.” Both are true statements, but one is likely to cause you anxiety and stress, the other will inspire you with positive motivation.

You can practice the “I want to” approach with anything and everything. “I have to cook” becomes “I want to make something delicious for my family.” “I have to visit 3 sets of relatives in one day” becomes “I want to spend a fun couple of hours with each set of my relatives.”

The more you practice the “I want to” technique, the easier it becomes. All of a sudden, lo and behold, the holidays become the magic they were always meant to be.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Sixty How to Keep Stress from Ruining Your Family Holiday Gathering




(Appeared in November in Sixty and Me)

Whether you are celebrating Thanksgiving, Hanukah, Kwanza or Christmas, the holidays will soon be upon us, spreading a message of peace and love around the world. It's a truly uplifting and inspiring time of year, no doubt, until your relatives arrive to celebrate with you.

Of course, some of us have easy, smooth and delightful interactions with our friends and family. But most of us have some degree of, shall we call it “challenge,” when it comes to dealing with friends and family, especially those we generally see only during the holidays.

Let’s face it, after a certain age, one hopes that family stress would be mostly behind us, that we’d come to accept each other as we are, for who we are. If only it were so. Unfortunately, family members can still grate on our nerves, try as we might to take it all in stride.

Your perpetually whining grandson refuses to talk to anyone, but spends the holiday get-together with his face in his mobile. Your cousin Ann wants “just another little drinkie” before lunch, which guarantees she’ll be incoherent by dessert. Your brother-in-law George's jokes are not only politically incorrect, but also downright rude. All put you in an impossible position. Ignore or smooth over? Attempt people-management or plaster a smile on your face? Run and hide? Well, you can’t do that. The upshot is--stress.

The Stress Challenge. Holiday stress, whether handled directly or sublimated in the interests of apparent family harmony, takes its toll. Not just in terms of momentary frustration and aggravation, but in terms of your health and longevity. Conflict produces stress. Stress can accelerate telomere shortening, which research shows can jumpstart age-related disease. Why is telomere so important to good health? Every cell in our body contains chromosomes, each with protective caps known as telomeres. Telomeres shorten naturally as we age, but telomeres also shorten due to stress, with a highly unpleasant consequence known as “accelerated aging.” I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want is “accelerated aging.”

We can’t avoid all stress. A certain amount of stress is actually healthy as it gets us up and going. But the stress of family challenges is rarely healthy stress, as it can lead to anxiety, frustration or even depression.

How To Lower Stress Levels. Exiling all stress-inducing friends and family from holiday get-togethers isn’t the answer. Instead, learn how to deal more effectively with stress and the stress of family challenges.

Imagine if Artie Giles, who dreamed of attending Seminary and receiving a Master’s Degree, had given up on her dream when life got in the way? She had to support herself and her family, working as a hair stylist, then as a bus driver and then helping special needs children. She was finally going to pursue her education dreams after retirement only to find herself taking care of her ailing spouse and elderly parents until they passed away. On top of that, personal stress kicked in: in her late 70s, Artie suffered an unusual nerve condition that left her paralyzed and bedridden for a year and in a wheelchair for another. But with the help of a devoted brother, Artie refused to allow herself to succumb to what would have been life-shortening stress and despair. On the contrary, at 81 she began her Master’s program and fulfilled her dream with a degree at age 85.

Artie is living proof that by refusing to let family challenges and personal stress get you down, you can continue with the life you want for yourself. Certainly, you may cringe when challenges occur, but as long as you shift your focus to dealing constructively and quickly with them, chances are good the effects of the stress will not impact your health or longevity.

Here is a useful strategy to deal with holiday family stress challenges:

Look For The Good. So your grandson has nose-dived into his cell phone. At least that keeps him occupied and out of everybody’s hair. Cousin Ann will sneak a drink regardless of your valiant attempts to keep her away from the refreshments. Either make sure she has someone to drive her home after the festivities or make up a bed for her. Everyone is used to brother-in-law George’s offensive humor. Ignore it. Don’t rise to the bait by responding, and trust that your other guests will take their cue from you.

Enjoy What Can Be Enjoyed. Your job is to enjoy what can be enjoyed in your family gathering, not to be the family’s problem-solver. You won’t reform anyone overnight, so don’t try. This is not to say that at some other point you might wish to engage in communication with various family members over unhealthy or inappropriate behaviors, but not now.

The holidays are meant to be a time of peace and celebration. To the best of your ability, let it be so. And with that, know you are supporting your own health and longevity. A precious holiday gift to yourself.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

What Would Betty Crocker Do?



Some of you may remember who Betty Crocker was. For those of you who don’t, Betty Crocker was a fictional character, created in the 1920s to give a friendly face to cooking and baking products.  She was a cultural icon right through the mid-90s. To many over the decades, she represented kindness and goodness personified.

A dear friend of mine’s dad was an exec with General Mills, which owned the Betty Crocker name and likeness. He had a company portrait of “Ms. Crocker” on his home office wall. Whenever one of his children would act up or say something deemed inappropriate, their mother would ask: “What would Betty Crocker do?” The errant child knew immediately what that meant. Betty Crocker certainly wouldn’t say or do whatever misbehavior the child exhibited. it was a surprisingly effective disciplining technique that my friend has never forgotten.

To this day, when she’s in a quandary about something, my friend will ask herself: “What would Betty Crocker do?” and she knows right away what would be the appropriate, usually moral, high road to take.

You may have your own version of Betty Crocker (fictional or otherwise), the name matters not. What matters is that you have a ready example for yourself of how you would like to behave.

One of the most critical things such a “moral high road” person can teach us, is how to use our words to help, not to hurt.

You may think you can only hurt someone by name-calling, and certainly, attaching nasty labels to people is hurtful: “you’re bad, stupid, lazy." What we too often ignore, is how criticism--not just name-calling--can be more hurtful than helpful. To say to someone “You’re doing that wrong,” “You never help with the dishes,” “You’re always late,” may be accurate statements, but they may not be helpful.

Before you open your mouth to criticize, think first. What do you want to achieve? Do you want that “wrong” thing done differently? Instead of criticizing, suggest, graciously: “Did you want some help with that? I may know a way that’s easier.” If they say “no,” leave it be. Do you want help with the dishes? Ask for it, nicely! “Would you help me please with the dishes?” If you want someone to show up on time, ask for it (nicely!) in a way that’s more truthful: “I worry when I don’t see you at the time we agreed on. Can you text me or something if you’re running late?”

Yes, you may need to have a full-on conversation with the person about failure to help, or chronic lateness, but for that, you’ll want to engage in a proper discussion using good communication skills, which are beyond the scope of this post.

For now, simply ask yourself “What would Betty Crocker do?” and see how far you can get with a small dose of graciousness, of simply being nice.