There are predictable times of year, often over holidays, that our family situation or dynamics feel put under a microscope.

Perhaps its experiencing renewed grief over lost loved one, or conflict conflict with a family member. Having this against the expectation of sharing a positive holiday together can be too much.

Learning to Emotionally Surf

Jon Kabat-Zinn, referred to as “the father of mindfulness,” reminds us that “you can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” At the holidays, it is worth checking in with ourselves about anticipated challenges we may need to face, and preparing ways addressing these challenges ahead of time.

Surfers are taught diaphragmatic breathing (i.e., deep, abdominal breathing) to manage big surf just as we can use diaphragmatic breathing for emotional waves. If the body can stay calmer, we are able to access reason and knowledge.

Knowing that emotions are temporary, as long as they are acknowledged, is also important for the surfing process. Pay attention to the ways that sharing out loud or even in a journal how we feel can make us feel free of that emotion.

Accepting that big waves will come is another key surfing strategy. The more we resist the wave or the emotion, the more likely we are to fall forward into it, or be knocked off our board.

Lastly, family stress is a universally relatable experience. All have had conflict, difference of values, or experienced the pain of loss of a cherished family member. Knowing that this is part of our common humanity can help us stay the course and ride these waves.

If the holidays feel that they will knock you down for the count, know that a mental health clinician can be a very valuable support during these more challenging times of year.

The content of this blog is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your mental health provider or physician with any questions that you have regarding mental health concerns. If you think you have an emergency, please call 911 or visit your nearest emergency room.