Survive the Holidays…With People

Six tips to dealing with the difficult people in your life this holiday season

Table Set for Christmas Dinner

With Christmas and New Year’s breathing down our necks, it can be a challenge to keep the joy alive. As discussed here and here, the holidays can be one of the most difficult times of year for many in our world. One of the best and hardest parts of it involves people: the people we love and the people who are at times the most difficult to love. So, let’s finish up this series with some ways to experience the joy and quite frankly, maintain your sanity, when surrounded by people.

Sometimes it seems that if it wasn’t for other people, we would coast through life just fine, right? But we know that certainly isn’t true. Philosophers, scholars, theologians, psychologists and even Hollywood writers have proven time and time again, that although getting along with others is often a challenge, without them life wouldn’t be worth living. (Think Cast Away) We are designed to live in community and that means with both easy and difficult people.

Sure, we can arrange our lives to minimize the time spent with known difficult persons, but what happens when they end up around our dinner table every Christmas Eve? That’s a completely different story. Here are some things you can do before and during those anticipated visits this year.

Plan Ahead: If you know Aunt Martha will be joining the family gathering this year, anticipate ways you can keep the conversation to acceptable topics. Think about how you will respond to her nosy or off-putting remarks. Visualize yourself engaged in a pleasant conversation. These simple techniques will help you to stay focused and in control of your own feelings and responses when Martha gets revved up.

Eagerly Anticipate the Reunion: If you dread seeing Uncle Mark, that will color your entire holiday experience. Think of something you can appreciate about your Uncle. This might require some help from other family members. Be grateful for those positive qualities. This will help you to greet him with genuine gladness. Remind yourself throughout dinner of those good things. When things get tense, bring the conversation back to these attributes: “Uncle Mark, I have always loved your ability to do impressions. Will you do one for us now?”

Consider the Source: Difficult people have reasons they are difficult. When we can identify what makes them tick, it helps us to understand them better. This, in turn, increases our compassion and often our patience with them. Recognizing which behaviors are strictly about them also helps us to let things roll off our backs.

Manage Your Time: If your visits will be prolonged, be sure to work in time to rejuvenate and recharge your battery. For an introvert, just being in a big crowd uses up a lot of energy. And when you add one or two challenging folks, it can be downright exhausting! Whether introvert or extrovert, being around difficult people takes it out of us all. This year set a schedule to have time to yourself throughout the visit. Go to bed earlier than usual so you can read or connect with a loved one far away. Volunteer to run an errand or watch the kids at the park. Go for a stroll during the day – just you and your walkman. #kickinitoldschool

Remember: Fish and visitors smell after three days. Whoever said this, was right on the money. The older we get, the more busy our lives become, the more we are inundated with constant bad news, the less capacity we have for close quarters with others. When planning your holiday times, keep your trips short. Better to leave wanting more than to exceed your expiration date with a bad taste in your mouth. If the trip is already planned, use the previous tip to create breaks in your togetherness.

Spread the Joy! Make a commitment to share the joy of the season with others. Remind yourself of this every time you get in your car or walk into a store or gathering. Keep your reasons for joy close to your heart, post reminders throughout your life and then pass it along. Put a smile on your face and a ready greeting on your tongue. Be the crazy fool who makes everyone wonder, what’s up with her?? Joy is contagious. Do what you can to spread it around.

Difficult people are all around us. Every family has at least one in their midst. If you find that these people are more toxic than difficult, hiring a counselor or coach to help you navigate the relationship in a safe and healthy way will produce great rewards for you and for them. We are called to love others as we love ourselves. The trick is learning how to do that well. The good news is that it can be done!

My hope for each of you is that this is your best Christmas ever. I hope you and your loved ones remember the reasons you are your favorites. And may the Good News of Christmas bring comfort and peace to you this month and all year long!

What are your tried and true ways of handling tough people or situations? Does eggnog help? 

Survive the Holidays…When Grief Comes

Practical ways to support someone who is grieving at Christmastime

The holidays can be the hardest time of year, especially for someone suffering the loss of a loved one. As discussed in this post, grief stress can easily overwhelm and steal the joy of the Christmas season. Whether it is you or someone you love who is grieving, it is important to offer grace. The grace to miss them. Grace to slow down and simplify. Grace to let yourself weep. Grace to take one day at a time. And even the grace to enjoy the season without them. 

Today, I’m honored to share a post written by my friend and colleague, Teresa Bartnicki, MA, LPC-Intern. Teresa’s post, with wisdom and compassion, provides practical ways to support those who grieve. I couldn’t have said it better myself.


Many of us struggle to find ways to help and support grieving family members and friends during the holidays. We want to help, but we often don’t know where to start. We are afraid of doing the wrong thing, so we end up doing nothing at all. Here are some ways that you can reach out to and support your grieving loved ones through the holidays:

  • Support loved one’s decisions about how to celebrate the holidays. Give them the freedom to keep or change traditions as needed. Let go of any expectations and provide a consistent, calming and accepting presence.
  • Offer to help with baking, cleaning, or seasonal decorating. These tasks can be simply overwhelming for those who are grieving.
  • Offer to help prepare holiday mail or join them in holiday shopping.
  • Invite the person to join you or your family for the holidays. Help plan an exit strategy in case one is needed.
  • Ask them what help they need for the holidays and be open to what doesn’t help.
  • Respect their need for privacy and solitude.
  • Offer to share a cup of coffee or take a relaxing walk.
  • Listen to them. Then listen some more. Practice being at ease with whatever emotion they may be feeling.
  • Send them a gift. Give them a journal with words of encouragement or hope written on the inside cover.
  • Offer to sit with them. Let them know that they are not alone.

When you catch yourself thinking about grieving loved ones this holiday season, be sure to reach out to them. Remember that they need your support now more than ever. While you can’t take away the pain of their loss, you can let them know that you care and that you are there for them for the long haul. Continue to check on them after the holidays and be present in as many ways as before. One of the most helpful things you can remember is that grief is not linear and grief doesn’t go away after all of the “firsts”. Continue to reach out to your loved ones on meaningful days and let them know that you are there for them through ALL of their seasons of grief.

Teresa BartnickiTeresa Bartnicki is a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern at The WARM Place in Ft. Worth, Texas. She has a heart for all those who grieve and spends as much time as possible with her great loves: family and running.

 

If, this year, you are the one grieving, ask for help. Share this post with those you love to help them understand what you might need. Find ways to honor those you miss. Remember them this Christmas.

 

Survive the Holidays…With Style and Grace

Five ways to manage the stresses of the season

Christmas Tree Ornaments

Hello, November! With a turn of the page the busiest time of the year is upon us. Although the holidays are advertised as “the most wonderful time of the year” they are usually the most stressful. Do you feel tired even reading a post about Christmas? Are you still trying to manage the Thanksgiving menu? Are you stressed out knowing the number of shopping days is dwindling rapidly? Do you find yourself resenting the mere suggestion of THINKING about shopping days? Are you more interested in making this season less busy and more enjoyable? If so, read on for practical tips on how to bring back the wonder and joy the season is meant to celebrate.

Many people around the world recognize that Christmas is the fulfillment of God’s promises throughout the scriptures as summarized in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.

The Lord joyfully gave His Son as a gift to us! And so, we should experience that same joy in the celebration of His birth. Unfortunately, we often experience the most tribulation during these very same months. The evil one comes to kill, steal and destroy – our faith, our hope, our joy. But the good news is that He has overcome the world through the very gift of the Christmas we celebrate!! Hallelujah!

So, how DO we not just survive, but DELIGHT in the celebration of Christmas?? Recognizing the ways we are distracted from the joy He offers is the first step. Below are six stressors that creep in to wreak havoc in our lives and steal our joy. They make us tired, grumpy, anxious and no fun to be around! Sounds like our old friends the Grinch and Ebeneezer Scrooge, right?

Acknowledging that these stresses exist and understanding how each affects you will better prepare you to combat them. Read through those listed in Step One and then spend time brainstorming ways you can reduce or eliminate them this year. Even the smallest change can make a big difference over time. Step Two includes ideas to help you really take charge of your holiday experience and make it what you desire it to be!

Step One: Identify the stressors that impact you and the ways they use up your resources.

  • Time Stress – During the holiday season, we have more tasks and events that take our time but no added hours. Tick tock. Tick tock.
  • Choice Stress – Every day in December seems to bring a wonderful opportunity to do something fun and “holiday-ish”. Sometimes choosing between what you can do and what you want or need to do feels like a risky game of eeny meeny miny moe.
  • Financial Stress – How many times have you set a Christmas budget only to realize you’ve doubled or *gasp* tripled it by December 24th?!? To say that the holidays afford financial stress is no laughing matter. #pundefinitelyintended
  • Social Stress – Whether long-lost or bestie our friends love to invite us to celebrate with them, right? It’s great to have friends, but sometimes the invitations simply increase the pressure to spend time and money doing things our resources don’t allow.
  • Emotional Stress – Most of us have at least one family member who is a challenge to be around. Social pressure dictates that we spend holiday time with difficult people simply because they are related. The mere thought sends some people to the corner to cry.
  • Grief Stress – Whether our grief is recent or long-standing, the holidays usually make it bigger. We find that our favorite traditions are rife with memories of those who are no longer with us. What was once a joyous occasion has now become full of sadness that, if not addressed, can hijack our ability to feel joy.

Step Two: Use these ideas to make a plan to reduce your stress and enjoy the Season!

  • Be intentional – You get to decide how you will spend your available resources. Considering which areas of stress are most predominant for you, decide how you will spend your time, money and energy this year. Remember, whatever you say “yes” to means you are saying “no” to something else.
  • Create and protect cherished holiday traditions – What is your favorite tradition(s)? What brings you back to remembering the reason for the season? Plan your time, energy and money around enjoying a few of your most favorite traditions instead of every one that presents itself. #sopunny
  • Decide what’s most important and focus your energy there – How can you simplify your life during the holidays? What can you temporarily eliminate to make room for festivities and celebrations? Just like a financial balance sheet, all categories must equal zero. Spending more time, money or energy than you have puts you in the red.
    • Answer these questions: What will I spend my available time on this year? How much money will I budget and how will I spend it? Who will I make a point to spend time with this year?
  • Put it in writing – Making lists, written budgets and event calendars that you can refer to often will keep you on track throughout the season.
  • Take care of yourself – Give yourself plenty of margin to recover from long days, exhausting small talk and late nights of baking cookies and wrapping gifts. Be sure to incorporate time into each day to decompress. Ask for help when you need it. Cramming your schedule full is a sure way to make you crazy. If you don’t have ANYTHING to give, you don’t have anything to GIVE.

Although there are many more ways to reduce stress and enjoy the holidays for the celebration they are, these will give you a good start. Want more? Are practical worksheets and step-by-step formats your jam? I have just the thing for you ~ download tools to help you work through each of these steps at www.erinkrobison.com/holidays. Then, watch your inbox for more suggestions on how to manage those six stressors this year.

What are ways you reduce stress during the busy holiday season? Are there other stressors I didn’t mention that you have to deal with? What’s your favorite holiday tradition?

“And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.'” ~ Luke 2:10-14

Eat, Move, Sleep Cover

Eat Move Sleep: How small choices lead to big changes (United States: Missionday, 2013)

Tom Rath, researcher, writer, speaker, scientist, Gallup advisor, cancer survivor and author of StrengthsFinder 2.0, has written one of the most practical books of all time. If your health and physical well-being are important to you, this book needs to be on both your bookshelf and your annual reading list.

Rath clearly lines out behavioral, physiological, medical – frankly every “al” you can come up with – reasons and data to support the need to eat, move and sleep well.

Whether you are a novice or seasoned connoisseur of information on physical health you will find this text easy to read and highly motivational. Rath writes short, pithy chapters that will compel anyone to want to live well, simultaneously providing a multitude of simple, practical steps to make good living a reality. As the subtitle describes, the author offers hard evidence to support how the smallest, most manageable of choices can create huge changes in any and every life.

Looking for the perfect stocking stuffer that will position your loved one for their best year ever? This is the one!

Shattered Dreams

Shattered Dreams: God’s unexpected path to joy (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2001)

Dr. Larry Crabb, renowned Christian author, speaker, teacher and psychologist, has written one of the most profound books ever. Drawing from his own story of shattered dreams, and unpacking Naomi’s story from the Biblical book of Ruth, Crabb brings to light God’s sovereignty in the midst of pain.

Although this text was referred to me almost 10 years ago, I have finally taken the time to dive in. It has become my number one recommendation for friends and clients who are struggling to understand why God allows suffering in our lives.

For many years, I did the right thing, believing that following the rules would result in blessings. But this was not to be. I have come to see clearly that life is about being IN the struggle. Remaining IN the tension. For that is where He lives. Waiting to bless us as we discover our incomparable need for Him. This is where joy resides. Crabb brings this to life as few others are able.

Do You Ever Feel Like a Fraud?

Five ways to get back on top of your game

Woman looking in the mirror

Do you ever feel like the world’s worst parent? The employee who really doesn’t know what you’re doing? The entrepreneur who is faking it more than making it? The musician, athlete, artist, diaper-changer who can’t imagine that you have anything good to offer others? I sure do.

I have intense moments of crippling self-doubt. Moments of sheer exhaustion from the energy it takes to keep moving forward. Moments of abject fear that everyone will realize what a fraud I am. The kind of moments that make me want to stop doing the hard thing.

Its a fair bet to say that everyone can speak to these exact same feelings at some time or another. Those who can’t are sleeping. 😉 AND although no one knows everything, to call ourselves a fraud is beyond extreme.

So, what do we do in those times to keep moving forward? To conquer the fear? To shore up the tired heart and find the energy and faith we need to keep doing life?

I know the right things to do. The key is to get ’em done. Sometimes I just need a reminder. The next time you find yourself in the throes of giving up, try a couple of these.

Phone a friend. Call up someone in your raving fan club. You’ve got at least one. Your spouse, best friend, mother. Call and let them know what’s going on. Ask them to do what they do best – encourage you. Leaning on your support system is essential in times like this.

Meet up. Send the text or email that asks someone to make time in their day to connect with you. Your people will always make time, especially when they know what’s behind the invitation. It may not be immediate, but even looking forward to the occasion will raise your spirits. We are designed for community. Let your needs be known so others may have the blessing of meeting them. The scriptures say it well, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Exercise. Activate your body. Get the blood flowing. Faulty thinking is usually the problem in fraud-like thinking. Take time to create the endorphins and serotonin your brain needs to clear the cob webs and get you thinking clearly again. Go for a walk, with or without the dog. Do some yoga or calisthenics. Push the wall. The options are limitless.

Pray. Taking time to pray or meditate on the truths of your faith can make the most difference to the spirit that just can’t do it alone anymore. Start with a favorite verse for inspiration and encouragement. Here’s a good one: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26

Be your own best friend. Its common that when these doubts and fears plague us, we know the truth in our heads, but our hearts don’t seem to get the message. So, talk to yourself like you would your best friend. You would remind them of what is true – they are working hard, they have great value to offer, they are NOT a fraud. Sometimes you need the same message spoken by one who knows.

As quickly as we can go from the top of the mountain to the bottom, we can also recover from the fall. Taking time to connect with others and the reality of who you are, will get you back on the right track. If today you aren’t facing these feelings, spend a few minutes making your emergency list for the future. Knowing who you can call and what you can do when times are hard will put you ahead of the game.

There are so many ways to calm fear and boost our confidence. What works for you? Who is the first person you would call for encouragement?

Even Them??

Cross on a hill at sunrise

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. ~ John 3:16

This year Easter comes early. Of course, the days slide by so quickly for me that I’m not sure I would have noticed had not people mentioned it repeatedly. Regardless, I find that I have to purposely hit the pause button so that I can think and be mindful of the reason we celebrate. As a long-time Believer in the sacrifice Jesus Christ made for me, it’s easy to take this remembrance for granted. But, this year He has orchestrated specific events just so I will be forced to think again of what Easter means.

Yesterday, I was listening to the local Christian radio station on my drive in to work. And the DJs said this, “blah, blah, blah, He came to save everyone, blah, blah, blah.” Everyone? Yes, everyone. Although most of us will speak this with our lips, believing it in our hearts is often more of a struggle than we would like to admit.

It’s easy to accept this premise when evil stays away. When the people who offend us are on the television, or across the ocean, or in another city, or maybe a distant memory of our past, it is easy – or maybe just easier – to accept. We can muster the grace to say, “Yes, He came for everyone. Even them.” Even the ones we despise.

But when evil and wickedness knock on our front door, or even worse, kick it down, push past the threshold and destroy what we hold dear, it is harder to remember. Sometimes, it seems impossible to be true.

It is then that I find myself asking these questions: Did you come to save the mean, conniving coworker? Even her? Yes, is the quiet whisper. What about the playboy who uses women for his own pleasure? Even him? Yes. And the crazy man who takes pleasure in scaring women and children? Even him? Yes. Surely, you don’t mean to save the abuser? The cheater? The liar? Even them? Yes. Yes. Yes. What about the brazen thief who violates the sanctuary to take what doesn’t belong to him? Yes. Just like the one who hung next to me on the cross. Oh! And have you come to save the woman who despises, judges and condemns in the secrecy of her heart? Even her? Yes, Beloved, even her. Especially her.

Erin, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of god.” Romans 3:23   Yes, Lord, all.

My precious one, “it is by grace we are saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9   Yes, Father, grace.

Yesterday, I said, “I want to be THAT person. The one whose response to suffering shows not the anger and resentment and bitterness of my humanity, but instead the love and peace and grace of Christ.” And yesterday He gave me a chance. For small suffering. And slight offense. But a chance for my selfish, entitled, scared heart to look for His face in the midst of the suffering.

He says to that heart, “a new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

Erin, Beloved, I came to save you. And him. And her. And them. Forgive them, “not seven times, but seventy times seven.” Matthew 18:22

When we come face to face with wickedness, our response ultimately must be one of forgiveness. Because we are no better than they. Sure, we may fight harder at times. But the truth remains that He came for each one of us. Each one of His children, whether we are for Him or against Him. We are all equally valuable to the Father. THAT is the mystery and the hope and the redemption and the glory of Easter.

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” 1 John 4:9

Hallelujah! He is Risen!