Halloween is around the corner and I’m already starting to gear myself up for various kinds of holiday stress over the next two months. There’s always a lot of ups and downs with family coming into town, more social activities to host and attend and the pressure of wrapping things at work up for year’s end. It’s not like I’m already planning my Thanksgiving menu, but it’s on my list and the list is getting longer. Fortunately for me, I no longer find holiday stress quite so difficult to manage, which is good because it leaves me more present for my clients, who do!
The most stressful pattern I see in my executive coaching clients is the interplay between work stress and personal stress at holiday time, and a lot of it is related to family dynamics. Take poor Sue, who had to deal with a mother-in-law who insisted on bringing her own cooking pots, pans, butter, mayonnaise and more to make her son’s favorite thanksgiving treats. (Yes, Sue is real, and so is her mother-in-law!)
Increased tensions with her husband in preparation for the family gathering at his sister’s distracted Sue from getting the first draft budget request submitted, and she ended up missing her deadline, even though she worked until 10pm the night before family arrived. Unfortunately, the kitchen jousting to make the big meal and other family events over the Thanksgiving weekend just made things worse and when she got back to work and submitted the budget late she was so keyed up that she accidentally snapped at her boss. A few minutes later I got a panicked call for my opinion on whether she was going to lose her job. It took me a little while to talk her down.
Sue didn’t lose her job, but I was able to help her learn to detrigger her emotions so that the year-end gatherings with family and locking down the final budget went more smoothly and with better balance.
The ROI on letting go of emotional triggers
Like Sue, most of us look forward to seeing family members so much that we just figure dealing with the emotional triggers that tend to come along with them is just “the price we pay.” The fallacy of this thinking is that it assumes we’re the only ones paying the price. But it doesn’t always work that way.
When we get triggered emotionally, even when we try to hide it from others, our unconscious reactions tend to trigger others and tension levels rise for everyone. Personal stress tends to ricochet into the office and light off tensions with colleagues until we feel like there’s nowhere to go to escape all the stress. If we’re self-aware enough to realize that our own stress is triggering others, we feel guilty and that just makes it all worse!
The good news is that when we do learn to detrigger ourselves, not only does that reduce our own stress—at work and at home—but it can help everyone around us become a little calmer and more focused as well.
While emotions aren’t reliably quantifiable, making a true Return on Investment (ROI) analysis impossible, there is a way to get a sense of what you have to gain by learning to detrigger before the family arrives on your doorstep (or visa versa).
Here’s how to do it.
- Imagine all the stress you’re going to feel in the next few months with deadlines, family and events washing over you uncontrollably. (Seriously, go ahead and feel it now. We’ll wait. Notice how the muscles in your neck get tighter and you start to breathe more shallowly.)
- Assume you’d spend about 4 hours learning to detrigger and 2 hours practicing it over the next two months (6 hours total).
- Imagine that after you’d detriggered, that stress in your shoulders would relax and you’d breathe more deeply. (Yes, go ahead and take a deeper breath now, feeling the tension recede.)
- Imagine you would enjoy every family gathering more and that the people you loved seeing the most. (Stop and imagine that increased enjoyment right now. Go ahead and smile at nothing. No one will notice.)
- Imagine that your remaining stress at work was limited to just juggling your time instead of your emotions (For example, you could let go of your anxiety and anger. Go ahead and feel it now to enjoy how good would feel to be free of these emotions that drag you down.)
- Imagine that even when next year rolls around you’re till less likely to have your energy sapped by emotional stress, for the rest of your life. (You know what’s coming, close your eyes and really feel how good it would feel if, for the rest of your life, you could live free of triggered emotional stress. Really. Do it now.)
Ok. Are all those good feelings worth 6 hours of your time? If the answer is “yes” then you have a good ROI for investing in detriggering now, before the holiday stress hits hard. And don’t worry, your triggers aren’t going anywhere until you let them go, so if you don’t do it now, you can always do it after the holidays too.
But really, why wait?