Reducing Holiday Stress, part two (Episode 89)

In this episode, which is part two of “Reducing Holiday Stress,” host Kay Coughlin gives you the exact words to use so you can communicate your boundaries in three common stressful holiday situations. As always, no judgment, no guilt and no pressure.

As always, you can expect real talk with no judgment, no guilt and no pressure!

Listen to part one (episode 87) here:

Other episodes mentioned: Part one of “Reducing Holiday Stress” (87); “Kind People Say No, Too” (79); Boundaries & Guilt, part one (49) and part two (50)

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Transcript of episode is below.

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Transcript: Reducing Holiday Stress, part two (Episode 89) 

You’re listening to From One Caregiver to Another. I’m your host, Kay Coughlin. I’m a business coach and an advocate for people with family caregiver responsibilities. I’m a family caregiver for my mother, too, and I just don’t believe that we caregivers have to put ourselves last. I believe that our families, government, and society in general owe us a lot more help than we usually get. And I’m here to help you learn to speak up for yourself so you can live your own life again.

This is episode 89.

Just a little housekeeping note here before I get started. I am trying out a new schedule with the podcast, and this is just one that’s going to work a little bit better for me with my schedule. So, I’m going to be releasing new episodes just about three times a month. Now, of course, this only matters to you anyway if you’re listening to these episodes as they get released in real time. And if you are, you should know that I will post a new episode again in two weeks.

Today’s episode is part two on Holidays and Reducing Stress. So if you haven’t listened to episode 87 yet, and that was part one, you might want to go do that.

In this episode today, I am going to be giving you scripts that you can practice and use for yourself. So this is super practical today.

In fact, this might actually be a great episode to share with the people in your life. But it is so tactical that you might need to hear a little bit more about what boundaries are and how they really work. So, some good companion episodes would be to listen to number 79, and that one’s called “Kind People Say No, Too,” and numbers 49 and 50, and those are “Boundaries and Guilt” parts one and two.

In order to find out what would be most useful to you, I reached out to my community to find out what holiday situations come up often for them, things that they want might some help setting boundaries with. I got a great response, so thank you to all of you who responded.

I want to let you know that I am no stranger to awkward holiday situations myself. And I’ve got a story to tell you before I dive into the scripts. About ten years ago, actually, it’s exactly ten years ago at this point, my mom, my own mom invited a whole bunch of people over to – get ready for it – my house for Thanksgiving.

Now, if you have not already picked up on this from past episodes, I adore my mom. She’s who I help care for and we have a great relationship. But that year was 2012. That was the year that we bought the house we’re living in now from my mom and dad, and they had just moved into their granny flat, which is attached to our house, so they’re right next door to us.

Well, my mom just assumed that we would want to host a big Thanksgiving dinner, because she did. Well, she was wrong. We were exhausted at that point. We’d been living together for a couple of months while their house construction was finishing up and we were squeezed together like sardines and, and we just, we were done.

 So we handled that situation in a very unusual way. I talked to my husband about it and we agreed that the way to handle it would be to tell my mom that she could host the dinner at my house, since hers really is not big enough. And that we – my husband and me and our two boys – would just go out to dinner somewhere else.

Now, the reason that worked is because we weren’t angry about it. It was a weird year and from what I can remember, we were not excited about the holiday that year anyway. We were just tired.

So Mom and the family were great about it. They had fun and they cleaned up, because I asked them to beforehand. And my husband and my kids, and I just came back to the family later.

It was weird, the whole situation and honestly, people who were there probably still talk about it. But everybody had a nice time, and most importantly, me and my family were in a much better frame of mind to visit with everybody around our property for the rest of the weekend.

Now, I’m not saying that what we did would be the right choice for anybody else really, but it sure worked for us and that’s what makes a good boundary, good and healthy in the end.

And I want you to know, this was way back before I had really started to do any work on how to set boundaries for myself. So I was a beginner at all of this, but we just made it work. And I’m telling you all of that because I want you to know that I practice everything I preach for myself, okay?

With all of the situations and scripts that I’m going to give you in a minute, and there are three of them, I want to really underline the importance of preparing yourself and practicing ahead of time.

And here’s what I mean by that.

Prepare yourself by picturing the situation in your head and just noticing what you think and what you feel. This preparation is going to be so helpful because, if you know that you’re going to feel anxious or afraid or unwelcome or totally disrespected, that’s just good to know in advance. That’s like having good data about yourself and anyway, all emotions are okay to feel. It doesn’t matter what they are, but the ones that are going to trip you up, are the ones that you don’t expect, or maybe the ones that you think you’re not allowed to feel in that situation.

So prepare yourself that you might feel very awkward. You might need to take a pause or take a deep breath when you are confronted with these tough situations. You are totally normal. And challenging emotions and these situations are normal. And you just kind of need to get to know yourself to be able to handle them when they come up.

And then by practicing, what I mean is literally rehearse the script out loud, by yourself. Now is this awkward ? Yeah, I mean, it is awkward. I don’t think there’s any need to pretend otherwise, but when you give yourself the chance to rehearse the words that you want to say, you are preparing your body, you are giving your mouth the practice it needs to say words that might be very difficult for you.

Think of this like training to lift weights. You literally can’t lift a heavy weight over and over and over unless you start by practicing using that muscle again and again. So, practice that muscle, the boundary communicating skill, practice the words, practice taking that deep breath if you need to. This is all going to give you the best chance of being able to speak up, especially in an uncomfortable situation when you really need to and when you want to.

And I’ve got a few really important tips here about the actual skill of communicating your boundaries. And this is important to know because you usually have to do this in high emotion situations anyway, whether or not it’s the holidays. And high emotions and high stakes can make things so much harder.

First tactical tip. Keep it short and keep it simple. If you overexplain, a lot of people are going to take that as an invitation to negotiate or argue. Saying the word “no” is a complete sentence and it is the shortest and simplest of all. Just know that it also might be the most emotionally difficult way to say things. But whatever you say, keep it short and simple.

Second, you never have to argue or negotiate if you don’t want to. If somebody tries to draw you into an argument after you communicate your boundary, you can graciously say, “I hear you, and this is what I decided,” or, “I see your perspective and this is what I’m going to do.” I’m going to demonstrate this for you once or twice when I give you the actual scripts in a minute.

And third, I want to be real about this, people are probably going to get mad at you if you set boundaries around the holidays and they don’t like it for whatever reason. That’s normal. Try to remember that you are all adults, and the way life works is that you make a decision and there are consequences. If you communicate a boundary and somebody gets mad at you, well, you’ll get to have holidays that are more peaceful for you.

And the people who violate those boundaries, they might try to escalate into arguments or real family trouble. Now, I have certainly seen that happen in my own family when I have dared to change things. And I’ve decided that I’m just willing to deal with it. It is normal for people to behave badly. We are humans. We do that all the time, and it can also be normal for you to graciously protect your boundaries.

Based on the responses people sent me about their difficult situations, I’m going to sort these situations into three basic categories, and they are: things that happen in your home or in your space where you have a much greater responsibility, but you also have a lot more control over what happens because it’s your space. Then there are things that happen in other people’s homes or other people’s spaces where you are a guest and you have less responsibility and less control. And then there are things that happen that are about your time. And I’m going to give you one situation and one script to use in each of these categories.

First up is when you have invited people to come into your home or your space. So let’s say in this case that it’s a holiday dinner, because that’s what we’re talking about here is the holidays. You can picture any holiday that you celebrate over dinner with a group of people. So you’re eating dinner. And picture that you’ve dragged in all of the extra tables and chairs in the house so that everybody can be around the table together and have some actual face to face time and everybody’s enjoying dinner.

And then your Aunt Belinda just lay something down that totally disrupts everything. She says something in a really loud voice and it, it’s obviously meant to get everybody’s attention and to stop everybody in their tracks, and she’ll say something like, I don’t know, this year it’s probably, “I can’t believe you all fell for it and got that vaccine! Everybody knows the government puts tracking chips in there!” Or, I mean, it could be about the moon landing. Who knows what she’s going to throw down?

Well, if you’d rather not talk about that around your dinner table, this is your house. So here’s your script: “Aunt Belinda, this isn’t an appropriate time to discuss that. Will you please pass the potatoes?” So very simply, it was, “Aunt Belinda, this is not an appropriate time to discuss that.”

Now if she keeps talking about it or if somebody else picks it up and runs with it, remember that you don’t have to argue or get drawn in. You can just say, “I hear you, and this is not the right time or place to have that conversation.”

Now, if all else fails and this escalates and you’re not okay with that, it is your home. You get to decide, and you can always ask that person to leave. I know that sounds drastic, but it is your home and you can always make that choice.

Next up is a really common issue that comes up when you go over to somebody else’s house, and that’s when somebody is drinking too much. And again, this is important because we’re talking about when you don’t have that much control over the situation because it’s not your house.

So, let’s say that the person who’s doing this is your cousin PG, and you’re very uncomfortable with the amount of alcohol that PJ has consumed and the way PJ is behaving. You have tried to get as far away as possible. PJ is just continuing to drink and get louder and more obnoxious. Now, your kids and your partner seem to be having a good time anyway, but you are just having a lousy time and it’s your family and you don’t like it. Now, I’m going to just make the assumption here that talking to PJ about it isn’t an option, and often it’s not when somebody is already drunk.

So here’s your script. First, talk to your partner to let them know you’d like to leave in a few minutes and tell them why, if you can manage to do that. Then go find the host and say to them, “Thanks so much for inviting us today, Grandma. We’re going to leave in a few minutes, and I just wanted to let you know.”

Now the reason that I didn’t go into trying to explain why it is that you need to make an exit there, is this isn’t your holiday party. It’s not your house. You just don’t need to get into the details about the boundary you are communicating, if you don’t want to. And I would say, in this case, it’s probably best not to. It’s your family, do what you need to, but you don’t have to.

Once you’re out of the house, then you can explain more to your partner and to your kids about why you decided to leave, about what your boundary is and how your boundary was crossed. Oh, and let me give you that script one one more time. What I said was, “Thanks so much for inviting us. We’re going to have to leave in a few minutes, and I just wanted to let you know.”

Last up here then, is when somebody tries to take over your time. Picture this with me. You’ve invited your family and if you’ve got a partner, you’ve invited your partner’s family over to your house for brunch on New Year’s Day. Let’s say that your partner’s brother Steve, or maybe your brother Steve, calls a few days before the party and says to you, “Hey, just so you know, we’re planning to come the night before to stay over and party with you guys for New Year’s, too. That’s just going to be easier for us.”

Well, if you don’t want them to stay over the night before, here’s your script: “I’m so glad you can be here on New Year’s Day, Steve. We are not going to be able to host you on New Year’s Eve, too.”

So that boundary you just communicated is that your invitation is for brunch on New Year’s Day and not a sleepover that starts the day before. Now, if you have a partner and you need to talk to your partner before you decline, you can say that. You can say, “I have to talk to my partner first, but I’ll get back to you.” But if you do that, make sure that Steve knows you are not agreeing to anything at this point.

What if you prepare and you practice and you think through whatever your specific scenarios are that you might run into, and again, you know, go listen to episode 87 if you need some guidance on that.

Anyway, what if you get through all of this and you make your boundary decisions and you practice the scripts, but then somebody violates your boundary…and you just can’t do it. You can’t communicate your boundary to them after all. Look, I want to let you know that’s okay. It happens. It still happens to me sometimes.

If it happens to you, you’re not letting me down. You’re not even letting yourself down. You’re just trying out a new skill and then the time came to try it out and you just weren’t quite ready. I think it’s probably normal and healthy to expect that because that is how this works.

Boundaries are hard. If they were easy, everybody would do it. So if you have an opportunity to communicate your boundary to somebody and you don’t do it, it doesn’t make you a doormat. It doesn’t make you a bad person. All it means is that you are human. You’re just as human as me. And for humans, doing new things is hard, especially when it involves family dynamics and traditions like most of us run into at the holidays.

Besides, given what I know about holidays and family dynamics, I can almost guarantee you that whatever your situation, you are going to get another chance to try again in the future anyway.

I know that what we’ve talked about today is not easy, and maybe you’re feeling a little anxious and maybe a little sweaty right now, maybe a little worried about this. Or you’re thinking that it would be too hard for you, and I just want to encourage you to get in touch with me if you need support on any of this. Because I know it’s not easy. I talk about it with people all the time, and I do this work myself.

The best place to find me is always going to be over in my free Boundaries community. You can go join that if you’re not already a member, and you’ll find the link to that at Facilitator on slash boundaries.

You can find out more about all of this work at Facilitator On Fire dot net. That’s Facilitator On Fire dot net. If you’d like to be less lonely and get some personalized help too, go check out the membership, which is called, “From One Caregiver to Another Cafe,” and you’ll find that at Facilitator On Fire dot net slash membership. It’s the place for caregivers to find non-judgmental community – I know that’s really important – and to safely explore what it could be like to put your own life back into your life. I can’t wait to be with you again in the next episode, From One Caregiver to Another.

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your guide

Kay Coughlin, CEO of Facilitator On Fire, is a business coach for the non-profit sector and social justice businesses. She is also well-known for being an advocate for family caregivers.

In every forum she can find, she shouts that it's OK for every human to earn a living, set and enforce boundaries around their bodies, thoughts, feelings and actions. You can join Kay's free, private online community to talk about boundaries here.

Kay also teaches about emotional labor, how to rest, and Human Giver Syndrome, and is the host of the "From One Caregiver to Another" podcast and author of "From One Caregiver to Another - Overcoming Your Emotional Grind."

Kay is well-known for her public speaking on boundaries and self-care. 

Facilitator on Fire is a subsidiary of Donor Relations Mindset LLC, which Kay founded in 2015. She lives with her husband and children in central Ohio, and is the primary caregiver for her own mother, who lives right next door. Kay can be found on LinkedIn and Instagram.

Copyright 2024. All rights reserved, Julia Kay Coughlin and Facilitator On Fire.

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