Use This Clever Mnemonic To Survive Emotionally-Charged Holiday Dinners

Photo: Nicole Michalou | Canva 
Woman lighting candles at holiday dinner table

Do holiday dinners and get-togethers stress you out? Not everyone grew up in a family where healthy debates around the dinner table were cultivated or enjoyed.

For those who find themselves anxious, overwhelmed, or shut down by those risky and vulnerable mealtime conversations, some practical tools can help manage heightened emotions or discomfort at these holiday get-togethers.

S.T.O.P. is a mnemonic device that's easy to remember and can help you stay grounded in the moment.

Marsha Linehan founded this technique for Dialectical Behavior Therapy as a skill when you notice uncomfortable emotions.

RELATED: 5 Ways To Set Healthy Boundaries While Spending The Holidays With Family

Use this clever mnemonic to get through emotionally charged holiday dinners & other stressful events:

1. Stop and freeze.

Don’t react when your emotions are hot and filled with energy. Don’t let your emotions control you.

2. Take a step back.

You can do this in your mind with some deep breaths or physically by putting space between you and the stressor.

3. Observe.

What's going on inside you and around you? Take in the whole picture to decide your best course of action.

4. Proceed mindfully.

Use your mindfulness skills to engage your wisdom and decide how to engage.

By setting your positive intentions for these meaningful family get-togethers, you're doing your part to bring joy, happiness, and cheer to the room as lasting memories are created.



RELATED: 5 Simple Ways To Beat Holiday Stress And Spend Quality Time With Family

Here are 3 bonus tools for holiday dinners and other stressful events.

1. Help steer the conversation.

With some forethought, mental rehearsal, ground rules, and mindfulness, you can take steps to orchestrate the meal, helping reduce some of the sparks that fuel the more heated topics.

Take an assessment of who will attend and evaluate the preferred seating arrangement to help diversify the conversation.

Do a mental rehearsal to anticipate common topics that seem to arise. Jot down some notes on how you might quickly and gracefully steer the conversation to get back on more neutral ground.

Are there some guests who you know to be instigators? Might it be worth the effort to touch base with them ahead of time to kindly remind them of the holiday spirit and encourage them to help keep the group in a joyful headspace?

While boundaries might not need to be set with everyone, a personal one-on-one conversation could help you set some helpful ground rules for the evening.

Before joining the guests, take a few moments to breathe deeply. Set your intention for the time together and remind yourself of the tools you have within your control to help you stay engaged and enjoy the holiday.

2. Step away.

Should your efforts to steer the conversation fail, remember you always have the right to take space and step away.

If you notice your buttons are being pushed and you’re no longer enjoying the topic, you can kindly excuse yourself to the restroom, kitchen clean up, or play with the youngsters.

If it feels safe and welcome to rejoin as the night goes on, you can step back in without the need to explain.

RELATED: How To Untangle Unhealthy Family Dynamics — Without Cutting Anyone Out

3. Don’t make it about you.

Family disagreements can quickly feel very personal. Pay attention to your boundaries, your ability to engage in mindful grounding and breathing techniques, and the idea that while you might be triggered, the speaker may not be directing their opinions at you.

If the topic of conversation continues to feel very personal after you’ve had some time and space to think and reflect, try to journal how you’re feeling and how you might want to address your experience with that person, personally, in a one-on-one conversation.

Just because you chose not to address the issue in the heat of the moment doesn’t mean you can’t revisit it at a better time.

Use these tips to make it through the most drama-filled holiday dinners and other stressful events of the season.

RELATED: 6 Ways To Reduce Stress At Family Holiday Gatherings (And Keep Your Sanity!)

Julie Mayer Norvilas, LMFT, is a Marriage and Family Therapist dedicated to helping cultivate healthy relationships.