Quarentine Blues: How Can Your Family Cope While You’re All Cooped Up

By: Dr. Greg Popcak

 

Beyond the obvious challenges we all face in dealing with the pandemic, many households are experiencing real shock as the activities that used to fill our days suddenly come to a grinding halt.  Schools are closed. People are working from home.  Life as we know it has been upended.

On the relational front, “sheltering in place” is guaranteed to ramp up your family dynamic at least 10 fold. When you’re around each other 24/7, you can’t avoid little irritations and personality conflicts as easily as you can when you’re running in a million different directions.That can be intimidating, but you can make it work to your advantage if you keep a few tips in mind.

1.Make a Routine & Stick To It.

When our schedules get thrown out-of-whack, we’re tempted to let our routines go out the door. All of a sudden we start getting up and going to bed at different times.  Mealtimes become a free-for-all. Chores may or may not get done. That can be fine for vacations, but for times like this, maintaining routines are critical for managing expectations and cultivating a sense of normalcy.

You don’t have to maintain the exact same schedule you did when the kids were in school and you were going to the office, but it would be a good idea to create a schedule and stick to it.  Get up the same time every day. Get dressed.  Eat meals together at regular times. Pick specific days for laundry, cleaning, and other chores. Go to bed at the same time every evening. Sticking to a routine can feel a little arbitrary when the school bus isn’t coming and your boss doesn’t see you coming in late, but do it anyway. The fact is, kids and adults need routines to feel safe, cared for, and connected. When we’re going through chaotic times, stable family routines help your household become a little island of sanity in a world gone mad.

2. Manage Your Relationships

When we’re following our normal schedule, we’re used to finding ways to connect (and stay out of each other’s way) as we move from thing to thing. But when the normal schedules are kaput, everyone’s expectations for the day—and each other–inevitably begin to clash. 

Now is the time to become more intentional about managing your relationships. If you want to function like a real team, you’re going to have to start planning for it.  Break up the day into chunks.  At breakfast, have a short conversation about what you all need/want to do with your time until lunch. At the same time, discuss little things each family member can do to take care of each other over the next few hours. Are there times when you will especially need quiet for a conference call?  What can everyone do during that time? Are there certain chores that really to get done?  How can you work together (or divide and conquer) to make them happen? Discuss how the next few hours between breakfast and lunch are going to go.  Have the same conversation about the time between lunch and dinner, and dinner and bedtime.  

Instead of letting your family devolve into an every-person-for-themselves dynamic, manage your time and expectations. Become the  team you’re meant to be.

3. Work Together

Do at least one chore together as a family every day.  It doesn’t matter if you usually do X chore yourself.  When you’re talking about how the day is going to go, choose a chore that you can all do together.  The kids might groan at first, but put on some music (let the kids take turns picking something appropriate), and do your best to keep a playful attitude while you all pitch in to get the job done.

Working together cultivates a strong sense of team spirit as you pull together to maintain a more orderly household and start getting used to counting on each other to show up–not just for the fun times–but the other times too.

4. Play Together

Don’t forget to have a little fun together everyday. Don’t let the kids play video games all day while you obsess over the headlines on social media. Dust off those boardgames and card games.  Read a book aloud to each other. Play catch. Just waste some time together—on purpose. Remind each other how fun it can be to be around each other. Maybe, when life gets back to normal, you won’t be in as big a hurry to spend so much time apart again.

5. Pray Together

Now, more than ever, let’s make an extra effort to pray as families. Take a few minutes every day to gather together and intercede for a quick end to this pandemic, for people’s health and safety, for the restoration of the economy, and for our own intentions.  While you’re at it, make sure to praise God for the times when he has led your family out of past difficulties and for the little blessings of each day. When we’re stressed, it’s important to remind each other that God has always been present and that he still is right here, right now, guarding and guiding us.

Though the witness of  Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection, Christians have been given the gift of seeing that it is possible to draw the greatest blessings out of the darkest times. Although we all hope for a speedy end to this global tragedy, I pray that you and yours will be able to use this time to rediscover the blessing your family has been meant to be all along. And I pray you will spark a connection that will bless you for years to come.

Dr. Greg Popcak is director of CatholicCounselors.com, a Catholic tele-counseling practice.

Hurting/Angry Over Mass Suspensions? Finding Spiritual Consolation in Times of Pandemic

It felt like a gut punch.  This past week, the Ohio Bishops’ Conference, along with many other dioceses and bishops’ conferences across the country have suspended the celebration of Mass through Easter.

Last weekend was the first weekend I haven’t been to mass since…I can’t remember.  It was certainly the first time I have ever missed mass without being ill and unable to leave the house.  And I have never once missed any of the Holy Week liturgies—especially Easter Sunday mass. I found myself experiencing a mix of emotions; sadness, frustration, a spiritual ache, even some anger.

Not Alone

I know I’m not alone. I have had many conversations with clients in my Catholic tele-counseling practice and callers to my radio program around this issue.  People–already worried and anxious about how the pandemic is impacting their lives–are feeling cut off from their most important spiritual resources.  As one caller put it, “They are taking away the Eucharist when we need Jesus the most!”  

As I was praying through my own pain of not being able to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist, I felt the Holy Spirit move in my heart.  I remembered the parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37).

The Good Samaritan

You may remember that in the story, a man is beaten by robbers and left to die on the road. A priest passes by on the way to temple, but can’t stop for fear of being made unclean from contact with the wounded man.  Next, a Levite, also fails to stop to help the man for fear of being made unclean and unable to attend temple.  Finally, a Samaritan stops to tend to the man’s wounds and bring him to a place where he can be cared for.  At the end of the story, Jesus challenges us to be like the Samaritan. 

What does this have to do with our present crisis? It means we need to step back and ask our selves, “What is the point of going to Church?  What is the fruit the Eucharist is meant to bear in our lives?”  The answer, of course, is that by attending Mass and receiving the Precious Body and Blood, God heals the broken parts of our hearts so that we can more effectively love our neighbor as God needs us to.

Love One Another

Of course, the Eucharist exists to be a source of personal consolation, but it has to be more than that.  It has to ultimately equip us with the grace we need to love more, to love better, to love as God wants us to.

Loving someone means “working for their good.”  If the entire point of receiving Christ in the Eucharist is loving others, what does it mean to “work for the good of our neighbor” in the midst of this pandemic?  It means willingly embracing the cross that social distancing requires of us so that we can “flatten the curve” and end this crisis quickly with as little loss of human life as possible.  Sometimes, true love requires abstinence.  This is one of those times.

A True Lenten Mortification

In Lent, we’re called to make sacrifices that will enable us to love better and build God’s kingdom. Sometimes, it can be tempting to choose sacrifices that make us feel good about ourselves.  “I’m going to do THIS for God!  Aren’t I wonderful?!?”  Although rooted in a good intention, this misses the point. True sacrifice isn’t about doing what we want to do for God. Rather, it’s about doing what God asks us to do for him and our neighbor.

It takes real humility to cheerfuly accept the sacrificies God brings into our lives, to consecrate those sacrifices to him, and to ask him for the grace to rise to these challenges in a manner that glorifies him, helps us respond to the people around us in a way that works for their good, and helps us become the people he wants us to be.  

Spiritual Communion & Commission

If you are struggling, as I am, with not being able to attend mass for the next several weeks, bring it to God. Offer up your pain with a prayer that goes something like this.  “Lord, my heart is longing to receive you, but while I am waiting to be reunited with your Precious Body and Blood, fill my heart with your love and grace. Heal the broken parts of my heart.  Help me respond to this challenge in a way that gives you glory, shares your love more fully with the people in my life, and makes me the person you want me to be.”

This prayer, and others like it, are what Catholics call “spiritual communion.”  It represents a desire to pursue union with God and the grace to build his kingdom even when the normal avenues of grace (i.e, the sacraments) are not available to us.  God gives us the sacraments as a gift, but he is not bound by his sacraments and his love and grace rush to fill in any space we open to him.  

While we wait in joyful hope to be able to encounter the Lord at mass and receive him once again in the Eucharist, make a spiritual communion as often as you can and participate in masses broadcast on TV or the radio as opften as possible. Until we can once again receive the Body of Christ, let us all pray for the grace to be the Body of Christ—especially to those the Lord has placed in our path.

Dealing With Others’ Emotions

We all know that when someone yawns, then we start yawning too. New research shows that our emotions cause the same chain reaction. 

A study out of Yale University—lead by sociologist Nicholas Christakis—documented a variety of interactions of approximately 5,000 people living in one town over the course of 32 years. When discussing the results of this study, Christakis says, “We were able to show that as one person became happy or sad, it rippled through the network.” The study demonstrated that this can happen even through the small interactions that occur with others on a daily basis, such as smiling at someone you pass on the street, while of course there are even larger effects with those we have one-on-one interactions with. 

As this research shows, our emotions “spread” to others. Structures in our brain replicate the feelings of others. Biologically, that’s another sign of the way God created us for communion. Our ability to actually feel the emotions of others gives us an opportunity feel connected to them, to identify their needs and work for their good more effectively. The downside is that we can get too caught up in other’s feelings or allow their emotions to drag us down. The key is remembering the personalistic norm. It isn’t enough to feel what others feel. We have to always orient ourselves to working for their good, for our good, and the good of the relationship– whatever that means in the situation. We might start by empathizing, but then we have to ask “what does God want for me, for this person, for this situation?” And move in that direction. Doing this allows us to be generous in our response to other’s feelings while not getting stuck in their feelings.

The question is, how do we set this personalistic norm to ensure that we are always working for the good of others and ourselves? Here are a few tips!

Empathizing isn’t Wallowing–It is good to want to be there for others who are experiencing emotional pain, but there is a difference between empathizing and wallowing. Empathizing allows us to have enough of a taste of what the other person is experiencing that we are able to make them feel truly understood. But research shows that once we have made that emotional connection, staying in an emotional place actually makes things worse. Once we’ve made that empathic connection, it’s time to ask, “What do you think you’d like to do about this?” and start helping the other person find even tiny things they can do to respond a little better to the situation at hand, to take a little better care of themselves, or at least be more effective at gathering the resources they need to make a better response. Feelings are not an end in themselves. Neither is empathy. Empathy exists so that we can make enough of an emotional connection with each other that we can stop each other from falling into emotional holes in the first place or help each other not get stuck in the emotional holes we do fall into. By all means, be willing to meet someone where they are at emotionally, but once you have made that emotional connection, be sure to ask God what he wants you and the other person to do to respond to the situation more effectively and gracefully.

Keep Up Emotional Boundaries–Being willing to support someone who is going through a bad time emotionally doesn’t mean that you have to be willing to put up with abuse. At first, it can be appropriate to “bear wrongs patiently” as you realize that a person who is upset, frustrated, or hurting isn’t really meaning to take it out on you, but if their bad behavior persists or becomes habitual, then it’s time to set some gentle but firm boundaries. For instance, you might say, “I love you and I want to support you, but when you treat me like this its hard to be what you need me to be. I’m not your enemy and I need to you stop treating me like I am.” Setting these gentle boundaries can make all the difference between allowing yourself to be a safe landing place for the people you love versus being their punching bag.

Know Your Limits–It’s good to be there for others who are suffering, but our responsibility to work for their good requires us to know when someone needs more than we are able or qualified to give them. Sometimes, we can get in over our heads when we feel like someone needs us so much. We might suggest that they talk to the person they are having problems with or seek professional help, but they either don’t do it or they tell us that they just need more of us. Then, we feel guilty pulling back because they need us so much. It’s important to remember that in a case like this, we actually make things worse by trying to be the other person’s only or primary source of support. Instead we need to say, “I wish I could do more, but this is the point where you need to talk to so and so, or seek help from this and that. If you can’t or won’t do that, I’m not going to be able to be here for you either because you need more help than I can appropriately give you.”  Knowing our limits allows us to be there for others in a way that actually works for their good instead of allowing them to stay stuck and dragging us down with them.

For more resources on how to deal with others emotions, check out God Help Me! These People are Driving Me Nuts! and tune in to More2Life–weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM channel 130!

When Your Emotions Get Derailed: Here’s How YOU Can Get Back On Track

18447716_1326200774095096_1823817419_nYou overslept through your alarm, you’re late for work, and—on top of that—your kids are sick… With all of this going on its easy to feel overwhelmed and out of control, which only adds to the stress of daily life, instead of helping to solve the problem. So how do we get back on track when our emotions get derailed?

Theology Of The Body reminds us that God made our bodies to work for our good and the good of others–that includes our feelings which are a function of our bodies. If our emotions are making it difficult for us to function at our best or treat others well, the answer is not to blame others for the feelings our bodies are making, but rather to learn to take responsibility for our bodies and our emotions. Taking responsibility for our emotions doesn’t mean shutting them down or shutting them off, but rather making sure that we express them in ways that help us meet our needs efficiently and make our relationships with others stronger and healthier.

Here are three More2Life hacks for getting your emotions back on track.

1. Reclaim your Power–When feelings throw us off track, we can feel powerless over our emotions.  The good news is that both psychology and theology agree, no one is in a better position than we are to manage our emotions effectively.  The trick is to not see it as a choice between venting your feelings or stuffing your feelings.  Instead, let the goal be expressing your feelings in a way that serves you well.  Before acting on overwhelming emotions, try to remind yourself of times when you handled high pressure situations well.  Ask yourself how you could use those same strategies in THIS situation.  Remembering past successes helps you connect with the fact that–despite how it feels right now–your emotions are not the most powerful force in your life.  GRACE is.  Bring these feelings to God and ask him how to express them in a way that solves the problem AND respects both you and the people around you.

2. Remember the True Opposite of Anger–The opposite of anger is not calm. It is empathy.  If you are being derailed by anger, frustration or irritation with someone, don’t focus on calming down so much as focusing on trying to see things through their eyes.  The point of empathizing with the person you are frustrated with is NOT excusing any offense or explaining away a problem.  The point is trying to get yourself to the place where you can stop seeing the other person as an obstacle to your progress and, instead, inviting them to be a partner in helping you make progress.  Research shows that problem solving works better when the problem-solvers feel like a team.  Acknowledging your anger doesn’t mean you can’t empathize with others as well.  It just means being able to keep your needs and theirs in mind at the same time.

3. Return to the Scene of the Accident–Often, when we lose our cool, we allow our guilt and shame to cause us to refuse to return to the topic. We MIGHT apologize, but beyond that, we may feel like we have surrendered our right to address the problem that provoked our reaction in the first place.  Nothing could be further to the truth.  By all means, if you need to apologize for something you said or did, be sure to do so, but don’t forget to circle back and address the problem that caused the train to jump the tracks in the first place.  For instance you could say, “I’m really sorry that I lost my temper.  You didn’t deserve to have me speak to you that way.  I would like it if we could make some time to talk about X, however, because as long as that’s an issue, there’s a chance we’re going to end up going through this again.” Returning to the scene of the accident allows you to learn from the past and avoid repeating it.

For more information on how to keep your emotions on track, check out Broken Gods! And tune in to More2Life on EWTN Global Catholic Radio, SiriusXM 139—Monday-Friday 10am E/9am C!

Taking Relationships from Stressed to Supportive

18035056_1301826716532502_1564248780_nRelationships are meant to be sources of support and love, yet sometimes in the craziness of life, some relationships end up causing more stress or become “one more thing we have to attend to.” This feeling may be a sign that it’s time examine and possibly readjust the way we approach these relationships.

Theology of the Body tells us that God created us for relationships; that building the kingdom of God really means creating a life-giving “community of love” with the people who share our life.  It is ultimately the strength of our relationships with one another that bear witness to the glory of God and call others into communion with him.  As St Paul puts it, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am a noisy gong….”  Unfortunately, as much as our relationships are supposed to be a source of grace, strength, and support, in our fallen world,  they can often be sources of stress, frustration and conflict. The challenge is not to run from these struggles, but to cooperate with God’s grace to respond in love and responsibility to work through these difficulties and create communion in spite of the things that tend to divide us.

Here are three More2Life hacks on how to take your relationships from a source of stress to a source of support:

1. Pull the Relationship Weeds–Healthy relationships allow you to be real and not hide important parts of yourself. Relationships are often a source of stress because we feel like we have to hide important aspects of who we are for the sake of “keeping peace.” That’s backwards. Relationships aren’t an end in themselves, TOB reminds us that God intends for our relationships to serve the mutual good of the people in those relationships–to help each person in those relationships be more of what God created them to be, not less. To build the kingdom of God in your relationships, be who you are. The people God wants you to create communion with will stick around, support you, and ask for your support. The people that can’t handle the “you” God created you to be will drift away.  Let them go. Pulling the weeds in your relationship garden will allow all your relationships to flourish and bear more fruit as you spend time with the people who are really capable of building you up!

2. Speak Up Sooner Rather Than Later–When people act in ways we find hurtful or offensive, we often let it go, telling ourselves it isn’t worth the trouble to address these issues and create potential conflict. While there is something to be said for choosing our battles, if you find that an offense continues to gnaw at you, speaking up sooner rather than later is always best. In the words of Pope St Gregory the Great, “Thoughts seethe all the more when corralled by the violent guard of an indiscreet silence.” The best way to address an offense? Don’t assume they intended to offend you and instead ask a clarifying question. Something simple like, “Hey, when you did thus-and-such, I wasn’t sure what to make of that (or it kind of hurt) what did you mean by that?” Once the other person explains their intention, you can either decide that it was all just a misunderstanding and let it go, or suggest other, more palatable ways the other person can express themselves in the future. Anyone who is interested in a healthy relationship will not be put off by this at all and, in fact, will be grateful for the opportunity to enjoy smoother sailing in the future!

3. Good Fences…Good Neighbors–Each person we know is good at offering a different kind of support. The key to less stressful relationships is not trying to make a person give you a kind of support they just aren’t capable of.  Some people are great at being kindred spirits.  Others are good sources of support or companionship around particular topics or areas of interest.  Others still, are fine to hang out with occasionally, but aren’t really capable of offering anything more personal support.  Enjoy each relationship for what it is, not for what you think it should be.  Base the level of trust and intimacy you expect from a relationship on a person’s behavior, not their title or role in our lives.  Sure, we “should” be able to be closer to, and have greater trust in, a parent or sibling or than a friend or a cousin, but in reality people are only capable of giving what they can. Having good relationship fences means knowing what each person in your life is capable of giving–and receiving–from you, and refusing to try to force more than this from them.  Focus on enjoying the ways each person can be there for you and you’ll feel less frustrated by the ways they aren’t.

For more information on how to cultivate strong, healthy, and supportive relationships, check out God Help Me! These People are Driving Me Nuts! and make sure to tune in to More2Life, weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN Global Catholic Radio/Sirius XM 139.

Almost Two-Thirds of Children Worry “All The Time”

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We tend to assume that kids have it better than ever, but in reality, parents may have reasons to be concerned. New research shows that two-thirds of children worry “all the time.”

The mental-health charity Place2Be surveyed 700 children, all ten or eleven years old, across twenty schools throughout England, Scotland, and Wales. The results of the study showed that children deal with a wide variety of anxiety inducing concerns every day, the most prominent topics being family, friends, and fear of failing at school. Additionally, 40% of the children “felt that their worries got in the way of their school work,” nearly 30% stated that “once they started worrying they couldn’t stop,” and 21% said they “did not know what to do when they are worried.”

Similarly, the study revealed several gender differences. Girls tend to worry more about their looks and being bullied, while boys were more likely to worry about being angry. However, these concerns were prevalent in both boys and girls.

While children utilize coping strategies such as talking to their family and friends, or playing video games, more than 80% of the children reported that “the best way for adults to help was to listen sympathetically.” The children also stated that many of them have learned from their own experiences, so they recognize the importance of “being kind to anxious classmate.”

Often children are characterized as always being happy and primary school is viewed as an innocent and happy atmosphere, however, Place2Be charity’s chief executive, Catherine Roche, says, “in reality we know that young children can worry about a lot of things, whether it’s something going on at home, with their friends, or even about bad things happening in the world.”

Worry and anxiety are natural and normal occurrences, but it is extremely important that children know how and where to receive help. “Schools and families play a crucial role in ensuring that children learn to look out for each other and know how to get help if they need it.”

For more information on how to support your child and cultivate healthy coping strategies, check out Parenting with Grace! A Catholic Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Kids. https://www.catholiccounselors.com/product/parenting-grace-catholic-parents-guide-raising-almost-perfect-kids-2nd-ed/

 

Holiday Survival Guide: 5 Great Ideas for Coping with Your Crazy Family

Ah, Christmas. A solemn, joyful time of year for Christians, where silent and holy nights are de rigueur and Norman Rockwell springs eternal in the collective unconscious of the American mind.  And then it happens…. You try–contrary to what conventional wisdom says about the subject–to go home again.

Now, let me state right up front that this article is not for those of you who can’t wait to fly home and reenact your own Currier and Ives Christmas in all your old haunts with all your cherished friends and relations. If this is you, then I wish you a Merry Christmas, a happy New Year, tons of figgy pudding in your stocking, and with that, I bid you a fond, holiday farewell until next year. No, this article is for the rest of you (you know who you are), who right about now are thinking that going to the local ice rink and lying down in front of the Zamboni machine may be preferable to putting up with one more Christmas of mom making “helpful” comments about your weight, dad getting more than his share of nog in the egg, your corporate attorney sister (aka “Little Miss Perfect”) telling you how she is glad that you are happy in your “little life,” your brother-in-law (the one that hit you up for $2,000 last Christmas for the Ostrich farm) asking you for money, or for that matter, Great Uncle Harold, who never tires of telling your twelve-year-old son the latest dirty jokes.

What can you do when going home for the holidays feels just a little too much like starring in your own, personal horror story, the kind where the hero/heroine (that would be you) barely escapes with his or her life, but not before suffering unspeakable, holiday-inspired trauma from the great beyond? How can you survive, or even (dare I hope?) enjoy your holiday in spite of the old wounds and present slights? Let the following five tips be your holiday survival guide.

1. Don’t Try to Solve the Unsolvable.

“Every year its the same thing.” Marylin complained to me in session, “My parents never see how awful my sister is to me. She is so petty and hurtful. I’ve tried to talk directly with her about it, but she always tells me I’m just too sensitive. When I ask my folks to give me some support, they just tell me they wish I could be more like her. They have always treated her better than me as long as I can remember. What can I do to make them see how much they’ve hurt me?”

There is a prayer that asks God to give us the courage to change what can be changed, the serenity to accept what cannot be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference. Now might be a good time to dust that prayer off. Generally speaking, when someone is acting in an offensive way toward you, the direct approach is the best approach. But if that person has been treating you the same obnoxious way since you were five, chances are you are not going to solve the problem this year, or any year for that matter, regardless of how direct or indirect you are about it. And the sooner you accept this hard fact, the happier you are going to be.

When it comes to longstanding problems with family members you only have two healthy choices available to you. If the ongoing offense is too terrible an affront to either your personal dignity (e.g., abusive language or physical violence) or to your sense of moral well-being (e.g., open and unrestrained hostility toward your faith and beliefs), then your best bet may be to simply skip the family shindig this year and concentrate on starting your own traditions. On the other hand, if the ongoing offense is not quite so serious, I would recommend that you do your best to grin and bear it. Remind yourself that you are a grown-up, and that while these people are an important part of your past, they can only play the part in your present and future that you see fit to allow. True, you may feel like a three-year-old in their presence, but the fact is, you are in charge now. If you can remember this, you will be able to find the maturity to practice the spiritual work of mercy known as “bearing wrongs patiently” and perhaps even find some wisdom in the age-old Catholic practice of “offering it up.”

2. You Don’t Have to Save Your Family from Themselves.

I recently read a case study of a man who was dreading going home for the holidays because of his mother’s excessive drinking. His therapist asked him to imagine getting the following note in his mailbox. “Dear Charles, I wanted you to know that for the rest of her life, your mother is going to be an alcoholic and remain completely oblivious to anyone’s efforts to help her. Love, God.”

Charles reported that even though the therapist’s words shocked him at first, he realized that barring some major miracle–a miracle that was beyond his ability to produce–his mother was indeed going to have a problem for the rest of her life. While this saddened him, he also realized that for the first time he could go home with some peace, because it wasn’t his job to save her.

People often tell me that they dread going home again because they feel it is their job to save their family, to be the witness that lead them all to Christ, or at least witnesses that stop the family from killing each other. If this is you, I want you to repeat after me, “I am not the family Messiah. I am not the family Messiah, I am not….”

Yes, when you are around your family you must conduct yourself in a manner that makes you proud of your own behavior, but stop trying to play the prophet or putting yourself, your mate, or your kids on display so that the rest of the family will see your light and follow you to Midnight Mass. That is simply more pressure than anyone can stand, and it will make everyone around you (especially your mate and children) despise you. No one likes a self-righteous prig, even at Christmas. The best way to be a light is not by being perfect, but by being peaceful. Do whatever it takes to maintain your calm and take excellent care of your own mate’s and children’s emotional well-being. Leave your family to their own devices. If you can manage this, maybe, just maybe, someone in the family will one day come to you and ask, “What’s your secret for staying so calm in the middle of all this insanity?” But before this can happen (perhaps a hundred years from now) you will have to practice becoming a credible witness to your family by being a peaceful, sane person whose faith–as St Francis de Sales says faith must be–is attractive.

3. Don’t Play the Game.

Certain people like to play a party game therapists call, “Let’s you and him fight.” That’s where somebody puts two people with violently divergent opinions in the same room, raises a hot topic, and then stands back at a safe distance to watch the fireworks.

 

There are political, religious, and personal versions of this game. Your job is to avoid this game at all costs, because there are no winners, only losers. If you play, you will end up looking like one of the reject guests for a holiday episode of Jerry Springer. Remind yourself that these arguments are really not going to convince anyone about anything and that, in fact, you are being set up, merely for the amusement of another person(s). Resist the temptation to fight.  Instead, if you know you are going to a place where you openly disagree with everything that is being said, focus all your energies on making polite conversation, or alternatively, heading to the buffet table and stuffing your mouth full of the driest cookies you can find so that you couldn’t say something inflammatory even if you wanted to.

Of course this does not mean that you cannot answer sincere questions asked by the more honest members of your family. Just remember that people asking sincere questions about spiritual, emotional, or political issues do not often do so with a smirk on their face and twenty other people looking on. If the situation is the latter, you are being set up.

4. Know When to Say When

Know when to call it a night (or morning, or early afternoon) and make sure you have a nice safe hotel to run to when things start getting to you. There is nothing wrong with beating a hasty retreat when you feel that you can’t take it anymore. Find an excuse to bug out whenever you need a break (something like, “I’m sorry, I suddenly began experiencing stabbing pains through my entire body” usually does the trick.) You can always come back later, after you have cooled down. And if anyone is offended by you keeping a separate domicile, just tell them you were trying to inflict yourself on them as little as possible. They probably won’t admit it to your face, but chances are, they will be as relieved as you are.

5. Pray.

This is the most obvious, but also the most important. But if you pray, please ask God to give you the grace to be a sane credible witness, BEFORE you pray for the conversion and sanity of the rest of your family. Remember, as St, Francis said, it is much more important to understand than to be understood, to love than to be loved, to consol than to be consoled. The paradox is, the more you practice these virtues, the more respect you will be afforded by those around you. Pray that God would change you first.

These five tips probably won’t be the source of any great holiday miracle, but they just may stop you from impaling yourself on a sprig of holly at the thought of seeing “those people” for yet another holiday.

And sometimes, that is miracle enough.

For more information on handling those delicate situations in your extended family, check out God Help Me, These People Are Driving Me Nuts!  Making Peace with Difficult People.

Effective Coping for Emotional Distress

Earlier today I offered some reflections on what people-of-faith need to know about depression.  I promised that I’d offer some additional thoughts on effective coping for emotional distress.shutterstock_203291770

Effective coping strategies enable a person to gather their psychological, emotional, spiritual, and relational resources so that they can respond to the problems they are facing.  By contrast, ineffective coping strategies simply allow a person to escape, withdraw, or numb themselves for a time, but when the “break” is over the person using these strategies finds him or herself no better positioned to address the problem-at-hand.  Examples of common, but largely useless and ineffective “coping strategies” include things like isolating, watching TV, drinking/drugging, withdrawing from spiritual support, excessive sleeping or eating, blaming, and other behaviors that attempt to give you distance from the problem but don’t give you any new directions, resources, insights or supports.

Here are some examples of effective coping strategies for dealing with emotional difficulties…

 -Drawing Closer to Others:   It is not good for man to be alone (Gen 2:18).  In times of trial, drawing closer to the people who share our life, asking for help, going out with friends (even when we don’t feel like it–especially then) is critically important.  Satan is a “roaring lion” (1 Ptr 5:8) waiting to devour you.  Be like the smart antelope.   When you are dealing with emotional distress, don’t let yourself get separated from the herd.  Instead, ask yourself, “When I feel better, what do I usually do/enjoy doing with others?”  Then do those things whether or not you feel like it right now.  I know you don’t want to be a burden, but talk about your struggles with others.  Give people the gift of letting them use their gifts to bless you.  In the long term, you’ll be glad you did.

-Draw Closer to God:  Ask yourself, “When I feel good, how do I pray? How do I experience God the most?”   Cling to those things now.  No, you may not get the same thing out of it you do when you’re in a better place, but his grace will still flow freely and you will begin gathering important spiritual resources.    People who actively engage in personally meaningful spiritual practices are more resilient than those who do not have or take advantage of spiritual supports.

-Participate in Healing Rituals:  People who are depressed or anxious or dealing with other emotional problems should definitely take advantage of Anointing of the Sick.  It is an important healing sacrament. Confession can also be helpful for banishing both obstacles to grace and the guilt that separates you from God’s love.  Don’t hesitate to ask your pastor to bless you or to ask others to pray over you and for you.  Sacraments have the power to effect the healing the signify, but all spiritual rituals have real power to propel healing.

-Make Meaning:  Research shows that “meaning making” or asking what value you can draw from a difficult time in life is a very powerful coping strategy.  One of the most depressing aspects of emotional distress is the apparent meaningless of it all.  In my book, The Life God Wants You to Have, I discuss many ways we can make meaning out of pain.  When we ask questions like, “How can I respond to this in a way that will make me a better person, glorify God, or, for that matter, make Satan sorry that he ever decided to pick on me?”  we begin to see the significance hidden with the moment.  We discover how to use everything life throws at us as an opportunity for growth.

-Recall Your Past Victories Over Struggle:  Write out a brief description of the last half-dozen or so times you thought you were doomed but things ended up working out somehow.  Focus on how, specifically, God delivered you from these trials.  Is there a pattern?  Do you see that pattern at work now?  How did you respond to those struggles when they were at their worst?  Was all the drama worth it?  Are you creating the same drama now?  Is the drama any more worthwhile this time?

-Gratitude Journaling:  Superficially, this sounds trite, but a large body of research supports the assertion that the simple act of writing down 3-5 things you are sincerely grateful for every day can increase your baseline experience of happiness by about 25%.  One’s happiness set point is very difficult to change.  The fact that this exercise can have this powerful an impact on one’s basic experience of happiness is near miraculous and it should not be overlooked by anyone looking for better ways to cope with emotional distress.

-Exercise:  A very large body of research shows the effectiveness of exercise as a coping strategy.  Exercise changes your body and brain chemistry.  It helps wake you up, focus your mind, engage your creativity, and tolerate pain (both physical and emotional) more effectively.

-Seeking Professional Help:  As I shared earlier, psychotherapy is a very effective means of learning new coping strategies.  Psychotherapy can be best thought of as physical therapy for the brain.  It has been shown to change brain chemistry and function and strengthen under-performing parts of the brain.    By beefing up brain function through cognitive and behavioral exercises as well as therapeutic conversations that support clients in thinking about old problems in new ways, clients learn to handle stress more effectively.

This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list of coping strategies, but its a great start.  Do you have other ideas?  Share them in the comments box!  And if you would like to learn more about how the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s Catholic Tele-counseling practice can help you experience a more abundant marriage, family and personal life, visit us online or call 740-266-6461 to make an appointment.

 

Wed on More2Life Radio: The Challenges that Choose You.

The Challenges that Choose You — In Lent, we like to choose our sacrifices, but everyone experiences little daily sacrifices that choose them.  Irritating people, frustrating situations, unexpected setbacks challenge us every day.

Today on M2L, we’ll explore how to use those frustrations as moments of grace and growth.  Call in from Noon-1pm E (11am-Noon Central) at 877-573-7825 with your questions about how to rise to the challenges that choose you!

And don’t forget to respond to our Facebook Question of the Day:   Every day, we have challenges that choose us.   In the course of your week, what people or situations tend to consistently cause you to feel drained, frustrated, or fed-up?

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Listen to More2Life live weekdays from Noon-1pm E (11am-Noon C).  Can’t get M2L on a Catholic radio station near you?  Tune in live online at www.avemariaradio.net, listen via our FREE AveMariaRadio IPhone or Android App (Check your app store!), or catch the M2L Podcast!