Now that the holidays have passed, I find myself reflecting on social and emotional dynamics that seem to be ramped-up during this time of year, but are certainly not specific to the holidays. The holidays provide many opportunities for families to come together to celebrate whatever their particular holiday traditions may be. While they can be a wonderful time for re-connecting with loved ones who we rarely see due to distance, time, and other constraints, they can also be a time of great stress as we try to meet the myriad expectations (others’ and our own) that seem to take on a life of their own: preparing a holiday feast that takes on gargantuan proportions; stretching our budgets to the breaking point to buy the “perfect” gifts; hosting visiting relatives for extended periods of time in a house that barely seems big enough for your own family, and so on.
As our stress levels go up and our tolerance thresholds go down, we become more likely to become embroiled in conflict. We may not even consciously notice it is happening. Undercurrents of almost intangible tension running in the background, or a constant “pit in the stomach” feeling, may be precursors to the exchange of sharp, biting words, or may escalate into verbal or physical eruptions of anger.
Coaching Ourselves Through the Conflict
How can we coach ourselves through these stressful periods of time to either avoid unnecessary conflict, or pull back from the conflict once it has begun? Well, as you might guess by now if you have been reading this website’s blogs, the first step in changing anything is awareness. Become aware of the signals that your stress levels are approaching a critical mass.
- Take your emotional and physical temperatures, especially during times that you already know can be stressful for you (like the holidays).
- If you keep a journal, this is a great opportunity to use it as a resource.
- Listen to your internal dialogue to really hear what “it’s” telling you.
- Check your body’s signs of stress: do you have that “pit in the stomach” feeling described earlier? Are you experiencing increased headaches? Are you not sleeping well? Can you feel the tension in your body?
Any or all of these may be indicators that it is time to abort the beginning of the conflict launch sequence. But how?
- Take time every day, even if it’s only the first 15 minutes of the day, 15 minutes in the middle of the day, and 15 minutes at the end (or whatever timeframe works for you), and be still, be with yourself.
- If you are a “lapsed” meditator, start again.
- Use your journal to vent.
- Start taking more frequent breaks during the day.
- Change your bedtime routine to make that time one of peace and quiet (which includes NOT bringing any electronic devices to bed with you. Research has shown that light from some of these devices can interfere with your body’s sleep cycle).
What if you are already in the midst of the conflict? As a former mediator, I can suggest that one very useful strategy is to simply remove yourself from the conflict. This may seem like a no-brainer, but in mediation, what is known as the “caucus” enables the parties in conflict to cool off, regroup, and rethink their approaches to their situation. And although your conflict may have been triggered by the stress levels of whoever is involved, it is important to then recognize if the conflict is based upon valid issues that need to be resolved. If you are able to later address this when everyone has calmed down, great. Otherwise, this can be a good time to enlist the help of a trained mediator, counselor or coach.
Stress and Conflict
Stress and conflict so often go hand in hand. For more information on stress and stress management, check out the following related articles/blog posts:
- How to deal with stress in the new year (newsherald.com)
- Stress Reduction (awakenedlives.com)
- Strategies to Help Manage & Prevent Anger (balanceandpowerblog.com)