When you read the word “family,” what feelings do you have? Some of you relaxed your faces and experienced joy, while others just got a knot in your stomachs as you felt the anxiety creep in. I want you to take a moment right now and figure out what you’re feeling. Seriously, stop reading and pay attention to what your body is telling you! I’ll wait…Ok, now that you know what you’re feeling, I’d like you to think about how satisfied you are with that feeling. Are you happy with your reaction or do you wish it were different?
For those who are satisfied, congratulations! Either because of the choices of others or because of your own hard work, you have the luxury of family relationships that are enjoyable. This is not something to take for granted, so don’t!I challenge you to take 5-10 minutes a couple of times a week (you can set a reminder on your phone if you want) and write down a positive memory you have with a family member. It doesn’t have to be a momentous occasion – it could be as simple as sharing a joke or taking a walk. This simple exercise will help you hold on to those positive feelings, and that will make your life better in every way! And for you over-achievers, you can share your memory with the family member involved in it to bring those positive feelings to them, too!
Now, for those who are not satisfied with your feelings about family… don’t despair! I wish I had the formula for how to fix every relationship and make it function beautifully, but I don’t – sorry! What I can offer is hope for better relationships in the future. That may begin by grieving the family relationships you have now. It’s important to first acknowledge what the relationship isn’t, so you can be content with what it is. Once you have accepted how the relationship stands, you may decide to make some changes to make it better. I fully realize that this is not always possible or advisable. Improving a relationship requires each member of the relationship to make changes, and (let’s be real) most people don’t like to change. But, if you are lucky enough to be in relationship with someone who wants to make things better, talk to them! Share how you felt when you thought about your family!
If change isn’t possible for the relationship (and even if it is), I suggest that you focus on positive elements that you can identify. I know that for some of you, it may take some serious time and effort to find those positives, but it’s worth it! As I mentioned above, thinking about positive things gets a really good domino effect going.Stressful thoughts activate systems in our body that signal it to be prepared to fight – increased vigilance, less sleep, decreased digestion, etc. Peaceful thoughts lead to an increase in neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin which leads to better sleep, better sex, and better mood. So, be intentional in your thinking!
I know we started with how you feel about the word “family” and ended up with neurotransmitters, but this is how our bodies work! You can change how you feel and how you behave, but you must CHOOSE to do so. I hope this has encouraged you to make that choice and given you hope that you can enjoy your family this holiday season in a new and better way!