“And so what I play with a lot with my physician clients is you’re really good at being highly capable people who handle challenging and complicated things. But in this setting, can we shift, gear down to something that’s more simple, that’s more in line with your views, and then it gives you more time to be and to rest and to use this season, the cozier, darker season of this holiday, to slow down and to have a little more presence and comfort for yourself instead of frenzied running around.”
– Jill Farmer
Jen and I want to talk about something that’s pretty timely, and that’s holiday stress. When we were having a recent conversation on this very subject, we realized that it’s one of those things that’s universal for a lot of us, no matter what stage or season of life you’re in. The holidays, particularly that period between Thanksgiving and the new year, can be really pressurizing for people, so we wanted to talk to you about some ideas of things that may help you reframe some of the stress and help you feel a little more peaceful and connected to what matters most to you this season.
This time of year can often be about everyone else’s expectations, so it’s really important to set the right intentions for ourselves. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to make everything perfect for our families and friends, but we have to stay connected to our own values. If you notice yourself feeling under pressure, take time out to sit down and ask yourself what truly matters. Many of us also feel like there’s never enough time to get everything done, as there are so many extra tasks this time of year. The truth is, the same amount of time in a day exists during the holiday season as it does on normal days, so it helps to take a moment to reframe and set realistic expectations.
Another way we can get a bit triggered is when we’re around extended family that we maybe don’t see that often. It’s easy to regress back into old patterns from childhood and outdated ways of thinking. One of the best ways to plan ahead is to set healthy boundaries, whether that looks like avoiding discussion of certain topics or making a commitment to only spend a certain amount of time around particular family members so you can stay present. Practicing these skills not only helps us enjoy the holidays with loved ones but can also benefit our communications outside of the home in our professional lives.
- How to handle the holiday seasons with ease and reduce stress.
- How to deal with time pressure and trying to manage extra holiday tasks.
- The importance of reframing and boundary setting around holiday gatherings.
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Please enjoy the full transcript below
Jill: And so what I play with a lot with my physician clients is you’re really good at being highly capable people who handle challenging and complicated things. But in this setting, can we shift, gear down to something that’s more simple, that’s more in line with your views, and then it gives you more time to be and to rest and to use this season, the cozier, darker season of this holiday, to slow down and to have a little more presence and comfort for yourself instead of frenzied running around.
Jill: Hi, everyone. We’re so glad you’re here on DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. I’m Jill Farmer, a co-host of the podcast and lead coach at DocWorking joined by CEO of DocWorking, Dr. Jen Barna. And Jen and I are here to talk to you today about something that’s pretty timely and that’s holiday stress. And when we were having a recent conversation on this very subject, we realized that it’s one of those things that’s universal for a lot of us, no matter what stage or season of life you’re in, the holidays, particularly that period between Thanksgiving and the new year, can be really pressurizing for people. So we wanted to talk to you about some ideas of things that may help you reframe some of the stress of this time of year and help you feel a little more peaceful and connected to what matters about this season to you. So, Jen, so good to have you here to have this conversation.
Jen: It’s so great to be here with you, Jill. And I’m always interested in always learning from the ideas that you can provide and suggestions to help us to reframe and pause and think about our intentions as we head into this what can be a crazy, busy season on top of what is likely already a crazy, busy schedule for the rest of the year. So I’m really excited to have this conversation with you and to take away some tips.
Jill: Yeah. I think you just started us off with a really good word, and that’s intention. This time of year can be so about other people’s expectations, right? If you’re somebody that has a family, it’s like, well, how do I create the best holiday for my kids? Or how do I make sure I buy the best gifts to make sure my loved ones feel that they are seen and supported and special to me? Or how can I make these perfect, memorable meals or gatherings? And so there’s a lot of sometimes even subconscious externalized pressures culturally around what the holiday season looks like. And so it can separate us from our intention. And when I talk about intention, people talk about goals and things outside of them. I like to think about intentions because those tend to be a little more connected to our values. And what do we mean by values, the stuff that matters to us. And so I think that’s one of the best places to start. If you’re noticing that you’re feeling a little bit pressurized or under pressure or stressed out about the holidays is to sit down and say, what are my intentions? How do I want to feel? How do I want to show up? What do I want this experience of the holiday season to be like for me? Because what matters to me, and that’s just a really good place to start because it kind of gives you a home base to come back to and measure against as like, Hmm, is this thing that I’m stressing out about connected to that intention, to that feeling state that I’m looking for? To the thing that matters to me and a lot of times we find it’s not, but the frenzy kind of spins us out away from that home base. What comes up for you is you hear that as a busy working parent and working physician who’s been through many holidays, seasons and experienced that stress. What do you think of when you hear that?
Jen: It makes me think of two things. One is that while we can define our values and we can think about what matters most to us going into the holiday season, we still have to balance that with the reality of the time restrictions that we’re under. And so that’s one thing I would love to hear your thoughts about. And then the other thing that immediately made me think of is how sometimes when we get in these extended family situations that we don’t tend to have other than maybe it’s just a couple of times a year. And the holidays coming up certainly are an example of one of those times where it’s an opportunity to get together with extended family and we are all happy and hopefully looking forward to that. But also it can be a time of stress. It can be a time where people have trouble staying in the zone of the engagement, staying positive. And I’m curious what tips you may have for bringing some self-awareness to those kind of interactions so that those don’t spin in the wrong direction, also.
Jill: Those are two really big things, so I’m going to separate them out and have talk about them as two different topics. And the first one I think that you mentioned is the time pressure, right? There’s a lot of added tasks to this time of year. The meals, the parties, the gifts under, you know, whatever kind of experience you have, whatever cultural norms you have in your own history or in your own practices, a lot of times it just involves gift giving this time of year. That’s part of the process. And so that does tend to feel stressful for people, right? Because it’s like, I still have all my work, all my other obligations, and now I’m supposed to add all of these tasks and these extra expectations and it starts to feel overwhelming. And one of the things that a lot of us do when we get overwhelmed is we get into that black and white thinking or the all or nothing thinking, right? I have to go buy the perfect gifts for all of my friends and family. It means something to me. And it has to be personalized, it has to be special, or they’re going to think, I don’t care about them, or I’m just not a thoughtful enough person. But in the reality, we still have the same 24 hours in a day in November through December that we do in the rest of the time. So those kind of time constraints can feel really overwhelming. And I think recognizing first of all, oh, I’m in that all or nothing thinking or that black or white thinking. And when I can calm myself down and take a couple of deep breaths and say, okay, let me get back to the values again, what matters to me here? And can I get creative about how I show friends and family that I care about them in a way that doesn’t require me to make 20 different trips to 20 different stores and 20 different packages that need to get shipped out around the country. Are there digital options? Are there special notes that I can send somebody either handwrite a note or even just type out something that’s meaningful for them that tells them they’re special to me? And then, you know, give them a gift card or something that I see as less personal. Can I ask to do potluck at the gathering that traditionally I’ve had more of the Martha Stewart style perfection magazine pictures. I love to cook, but if I focus on my one thing and then ask other people to bring things that they enjoy bringing, does that allow me more time? So a lot of that time constraint, I think, comes from this idea of trying to make it so perfect. And so what I play with a lot with my physician clients is you’re really good at being highly capable people who handle challenging and complicated things. But in this setting, can we shift, gear down to something that’s more simple, that’s more in line with your views, and then it gives you more time to be and to rest and to use this season, the cozier, darker season of this holiday, to slow down and to have a little more presence and comfort for yourself instead of frenzied running around. Now back to, I think the other point that you talked about that is really top of mind for a lot of people and that’s family stuff, right? A lot of times the holidays bring us the opportunity to be in connection with our family of origin, maybe with partners or spouses’ family of origin. And that can be something that’s really special about the holidays and it can bring up a lot of our stuff when we’re back in those situations and settings. And one of the things that I have seen work really well with clients is getting back to that intentionality again. If the intention is to have some perfect TV, made for TV movie, “family is everything” perfection with the human beings that make up your family? That’s probably unlikely because human beings are human beings and we have our strengths and we have our weaknesses. And then when we collect them together, those strengths and weaknesses can show up. And so I think part of the biggest thing that you can do to avoid stress or overwhelm is to A. – boundaries. Only stay in the physical presence of family in these settings for as long as you can stay self-actualized. As a great thinker and leader, Rob Bell that I like a lot says. So that means just because when you were a kid, you went to grandma and grandpa’s house and nine people slept on the floor and stayed for a week and a half. Doesn’t mean you need to do that too. It might be better to say let’s have one or two meals with our family and make that time special. It can be having some pre conversations ahead of time and saying I notice that every time we bring up how long grandma is going to stay in her house versus moving into some form of assisted living when we’re all together, it blows up and it’s not a meaningful conversation. So maybe let’s save that or table that conversation for a Zoom call or another time when we can all get together and let’s focus on other things during our time together. You can recognize that you can’t change other people. So making space in yourselves to listen, you don’t have to condone or accept when somebody says something that’s morally irreprehensible to you, but also making space for the fact that people are going to have different ideas. And it’s probably not your job to convince them of being in complete alignment with all your ideas at a family gathering at the holidays gives a little more space for people to be human and less likely that things blow up into frustration or conflict. Again, that’s a big topic. And so anything specific to that or anything that comes up for you as you hear some of those ideas.
Jen: Those are tremendous insights. And I love something you said the other day at one of our small group coaching sessions, which was that when you get together in these kinds of settings with people that you have these very longstanding relationships with, the most longstanding you have, which would be your extended family. Sometimes you can trigger some neural pathways that maybe aren’t usually lighting up. And so it’s not really anyone’s fault that sometimes people can go in directions where they don’t anticipate and they don’t wish to go. But it is very helpful, I think, to have some insight and to notice a little bit more objectively when you see yourself going down that path so that you can perhaps prevent saying something that you would later wish you hadn’t said.
Jill: Yeah, another way to say that, I think, is that we do tend to regress. Right. And I can see in my own family situation, you know, I’m 54 years old, but sometimes when I get back together with my siblings and parents, I can step back into that middle child role of harmonizer and wanting to make everything everybody behave in the way that makes sure that everything is going to go well. And so for me, ahead of time to set an intention for what do I want these connections to be like? What kind of role do I want it to play in our time here together? And then I also know I have to kind of watch myself that I don’t step back into some of those patterns, family system patterns that have been around for a long time. And I get to let everybody else let their patterns play out or not play out, but it’s given me a lot of freedom and a lot more peace and a lot more joy and just that time of connecting together when I recognize that I had that tendency to do some of those regressing patterns from things that have been around since childhood. And I think it’s kind of fun and meaningful when we take a different look at it, are willing to shift our perspective, and to evolve some of these relationships into something that feels healthier and different in this season of life. So I hope other people will try to play around with that this holiday season, too. And, you know, it’s just we’re in a little bit of a tricky, weird time, right? Because we didn’t get together with family for a couple of years, many of us, because of COVID restrictions. And so it’s in some ways that can be a little strange and awkward. I think it’s an opportunity for people to reset and to think about this a little bit differently, about being more intentional, about what kind of gatherings they want to have, and about healthy ways to communicate, connect with those that they’re related to.
Jen: One thing I love about everything you’re saying is that this is an opportunity to practice these skills through the holidays, and then we can reuse these skills in all of our other communications, both at work and at home throughout the year. So it’s a great way to end the year, but also a great way to start the year with these things top of mind and this way of communicating and having some self-awareness around how we communicate.
Jill: Yeah, beautifully said. I think any time we have a laboratory where we have a chance to be intentional and to try to cultivate something that’s meaningful and that we’re fully present and aware of, that gives us a gift that we can, you know, take into greater awareness outside of the laboratory of sometimes some of those challenging relationships in our lives, or the interesting ones, or the ones where we tend to fall back into the same patterns. And so I think you bring up just a really great point that if we can look at it a little bit playfully and as a laboratory of hey, this time I’m going to see what it looks like if I change the steps of the dance here a bit to use a term from a relationship therapist, Harriet Lerner, who has been around for a very long time. She talks about how we get into these dances. Sometimes we do these steps with people that we don’t really want to be doing. And so when we can come into these experiences of the holidays and change the steps of the dance, whether it’s simplifying things so that we have more time to be peaceful and present, whether it’s changing our intentions, our communication style, when we’re back with family of origin or with people that sometimes can be pressurizing interactions with any of that willingness to do things differently and to see if we can experience more meaningful and better results. We can carry that into other experiences in relationships, in work and outside of work as we move into the new year, too. So I think that’s a real positive about if we can frame this time of year in that perspective.
Jen: Thank you so much, Jill. It’s always such a pleasure to talk with you and take away these concepts that really are life changing. It’s tremendous working with you and it is a learning opportunity for me every single time we talk. So I thank you. Thank you also, if you’re listening and we hope that you’ll let us know how the holidays go for you and give us some feedback. We always love to hear from you as our listeners. Thanks for joining us here today on DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast.
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