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How to Have A Peaceful Holiday Season

With the holiday season fast approaching, three small but powerful and effective habits to work with, to help ensure a smoother time with friends and family, if things are getting a bit fraught and fractious.

1. Stop and breathe – breathing is highly recommended for everything, period. We need oxygen to function effectively and  to remain calm. When we manage to calm ourselves, situations are less likely to get out of control.We are also more able to do the following:

2. Stand in the other person’s shoes. Where there are disagreements, our curiosity often fails us and we end up wanting to assert our own views and position rather than learn about the other person’s position and views. Standing in the other person's shoes does not mean you have to agree with them, it just means that you take the time to see the world from their vantage point. This is a practical form of acceptance and allows you to have a relationship with them based on respect and understanding.

3. Check out that you have understood the other person, to their satisfaction. And, don’t be afraid to ask someone to check out their understanding of your position, so that you both understand each other before getting into an argument. You might find it is not necessary and find it easier to identify both where you have things in common and where you have genuine differences that need to be resolved between you.

The first of these habits of stopping and being aware of one’s breath is of course central to the practice of conscious control using the Alexander Technique. One thing that strikes many new pupils is just how often they are going about their daily business holding their breath. Good self-management requires a practiced ability to stop and not just react; to come into breath and to use all of one’s intelligences to respond creatively and flexibly in each given situation. It also provides a solid foundation for developing our social awareness of being able to stand in another’s shoes. Without this ability, relationships tend to break down or fail to form adequately. It is central to my work as psychotherapist, with both individuals and couples, where the capacity to intentionally form and manage relationships rests on knowing who the other is, not in your world but in their world – only then do you accept them. Where relationships break down, the knowledge of who the other person is to themselves has often failed to develop, and if we want a relationship it is our job to be curious about who the other person is, especially if they are the person we have chosen to spend our lives with. And this brings me to the final habit, which is the one, more than any other that I invite couples to take away from couples therapy, which is to check out to the other person’s satisfaction that you have understood what their position is. There are all sorts of advantages to this not least in that if a person feels understood they are more likely to be able to listen to you. It also accords them a respect which is otherwise often missing and helps to prevent criticism which escalates into conflict and contempt which is toxic to relationships. It provides one of the important foundations for long lasting and nourishing relationships which are central to life and human flourishing.

All of the above are habits to be practiced. They are small-scale habits with profound long-term benefits for living well and can help reduce conflict and strife when things are getting bit a bit fraught and fractious over Christmas.