Guest Post by Jennifer Scott
How to Keep Tensions Low and Focus on the Fun
We love the idea of spending time with those closest to us during the holidays, but a family can also be a source of high tension, especially for someone suffering from anxiety. Recounting old memories, troublesome debates regarding politics, and burnt food can all lead to high stress during a time when everyone should be focusing on the good in their lives.
Regardless of what happens at your next family meeting, you can maintain a sense of calm in the midst of chaos by keeping these happy-inducing tips in mind.
According to Popular Science, most people feel some form of stress, when it comes to their family. Despite what causes that tension, these types of feelings are typical. You are not alone, nor can you control everything. Stress is bound to arise when someone faces specific pressures and cannot live up to particular standards. However, you can defy these strains by just being you.
Try talking to someone, such as a friend or therapist, who can help put your situation into perspective. The tension that you experience is likely not about you at all. Revisit triggered childhood memories, pinpoint why you feel hurt and be gentle on yourself. Though you may not garner support from family, at least you’ll get better at handling the stress that comes from familial relations.
Have a Plan
We all have that annoying or toxic family member who likes to push our buttons at every opportunity. In this case, it’s best to shield ourselves from any potential negativity by thinking about how we will correspond to difficult questions, how we will return negative feedback, and ways to cope if things go awry.
Having a strategy is especially helpful if you’re a recovering addict who may receive a condescending retort upon mentioning that you are no longer drinking. Most importantly, you don’t have to explain why you choose not to drink because your personal life is your concern. However, if someone is persistently taunting you for a drink, knowing that you are in recovery, try responding with a simple, “No, thank you” or “I’m no longer drinking.” You don’t have to put up with peer pressure, and staying confident in your response is critical.
Assess Your Emotions
Thinking before you speak can cover a multitude of sins. However, when we allow our emotions to take hold, what we say can have significant consequences, according to No Bullying. We all go through situations that can sometimes get the best of us, but don’t believe what you feel because our emotions are fickle. This doesn’t mean that what you’re facing is invalid, but sometimes things aren’t what they seem.
Perhaps your sibling responds in a way that seems persnickety, or your mom comments that you’re looking a little worse for wear lately. In fact, they may be just expressing concern for you because they love you. Maybe you have been a bit stressed recently, and it’s beginning to show up in your appearance, so it’s best to take a step back and evaluate your feelings.
Just Have Fun
As cliche´ as it seems, time heals all wounds. Though old hurts may linger in small ways, if you let your feelings run their course, you usually do feel better over time, especially if they aren’t genuinely rooted memories. Any pent-up emotions that you experience can quickly be quelled by merely letting them go.
While an itinerary is exceptional, relinquishing expectations is far better. Everyone may not have the same plan as you, as an essential quality of attending family functions is to be together and enjoy each other’s company. Additionally, scheduling some “me time,” is especially helpful when things get a bit hectic.
Peace, love, and happiness are what makes life worth living. In the spirit of fun, commune in a way that leaves you feeling revived and connected, and you’ll see just how beautiful family is, indeed.
"A lob in tennis (also called Great Horse, in Italian Cavallone) is hitting the ball high and deep into the opponent's court. It can be used as an offensive or defensive weapon depending on the situation."
A master of my emotions and expert on mental health in general, I consider it my duty to challenge myself. I encourage my clients to do this so I feel it is only fair to reciprocate in kind, however private my trials may be. Believing that growth is guaranteed through strife, I push myself in many ways. One of them is tennis.
A professional masseuse years ago, my mother once traded massage with a woman who taught tennis. When I was eleven, this woman taught me and I loved it. I never played competitive sports nor have I ever considered myself a competitive person. I was always last to be picked for any game in gym class. Okay, second to last. In the fifth grade, Angie, a developmentally delayed girl with bottle cap glasses and a drooling problem beat me for dead last. Her legs splayed behind her awkwardly when she ran. I know this because I studied her at great length while running behind and remember the determination and strain it cost me to beat her. Though she acted like she did not care, my heart ached for us both when captains were picking teams. I always hated the whole thing. Hence, the idea of purposefully playing a sport in my free time repulsed me and I have since considered myself fundamentally different from those sporty types. When I was eleven, tennis with Ms. Wetzle challenged this concept over one summer and as I see it now, she changed my life.
To be clear, I learned tennis from Ms. Wetzle when I was eleven and only played in lessons over one summer. Then, I took beginning tennis in college at twenty-six. I have enjoyed hitting with willing friends and a few boyfriends that were way sportier than me. In recent years, I joined a racket club on two separate occasions to distract myself with social exercise from the pain of separation from those boyfriends. At this club, joining the United States Tennis Association is a thing. It is hard to play without being asked to compete and promised that it is fun. The following is an account of some of my experience since joining the USTA.
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She must have been half my age. I saw her once practicing with her coach who might also be her dad. They were on the court where I would be competing that day. She had her hair piled on the top of her head in a carefree bun, and wore not the preppy, tight tennis attire but thin, baggy warm up pants. The elastic cinched around her calves unevenly like a thug made her look confident, if not better, at least younger and certainly cooler than me. She had earbuds in so I asked the man feeding her balls if he was warming her up for USTA. He said he was not and asked if I had a match there, if I needed the court. I was nervous and he was friendly. I replied, “Yes, but my opponent isn’t here yet so I’ll just watch till she arrives, if that’s okay? I’m just glad I’m not playing her.” I pointed to his protégé and she removed an earbud, looked curious, then smiled silently. That was two months ago.
Despite what I remembered about her, when she arrived to play me today I was not overly concerned. I won yesterday against I woman I felt could be my double. We both played hard and scored great, long points. It was hot and still through the late afternoon. Agony. Our match lasted better than 2 hours and if she had not shared her granola bar, I might have needed an ambulance. I got her in a ten-point tie break. I was painfully nervous throughout the match. Black spots dotted my vision. I could not get to the top of my breath. Early on I decided to just hang my mouth open in lieu of trying to calm myself with even breaths through my nose. My legs were unreliable. Usually solid, they shook like jelly and when I tried to sip from a paper cone, I needed two hands. At home, I couldn’t decide to shower or
vomit so I planned to vomit in the shower. If I had, that would have been a first. I felt sick until around eleven then, refreshed and pleased with myself for winning, I slept hard for semi-finals today.
When I signed up for the Santa Fe Open I did not realize I would be playing more than once. Truth be told, I saw that money could be won and impulsively registered not understanding that only higher levels win money. I also thought that when I read the email a week ago, “the Santa Fe Open is just around the corner!”, the corner would be much further away. So, winning yesterday and surviving my nerves meant I was already a champion.
At 9:30 this morning I felt mostly calm. I repeated to myself: I feel good, this is good, this is fun, fun, fun, fun, like a mantra, hoping my demon nerves would not return. Fun. Fun. Fun. Fun. Fun. We warmed up for five minutes as we were told by the officials, then started to play.
It started in the first game. With a harmless little pop her ball sprung into the clouds and I felt like a clown. Running forward, pedaling back, skipping to the side, turning around, bolting to the back but, I hit it. Backatchya! Ha! Ha! Then again, so effortless, she sent it into the clouds, and it went on like this for two sets. I know, I’ll just smash it out of the air like I’ve seen on tv. I remember that my ex-boyfriend would lob the ball at me like this and chuckle. I thought it was cheap, lazy and arrogant. Over and over, pop, into the sky. I would turn my back and refuse to play. If I would have gotten over myself then and tried a little more with him I might know better how to handle the lob princess but I did not. Consequently, I am not very good at smashing it out of the air like I have seen on tv and I could not make the ball into the court. So, I decided to get it right off the bounce, keep your eye on it, I told myself. I managed that strategy a lot but she always got it back into the clouds. Is this allowed? I wondered. How does she sleep at night? I thought, truly puzzled. I guess she wants to win like this. I could not believe it.
Early on I shouted to her across the court, “I feel like we’re playing in a circus!” and regretted it. It sounded catty, and that is not me. So, I tried to soften my comment by using French, “it’s like Cirque du tennis!” But she just smiled calmly and I lied about how much fun I was having.
By the end of the match I was growling loudly with every return and screaming how frustrated I was. She won both sets. Then she won the tournament in our division, grade level, or whatever you call it. Now I am writing about it to make the whole thing feel like a useful growth experience (which is psychobabble for a shitty fucking time) and consider my expertise in emotional regulation. Also, I plan to practice lobbing because that is how one wins at my level, obviously. One pro promised she would hit a wall with her strategy. I would like to be that wall.
One thing is certain. I can no longer convince myself or anyone else that I am just not a competitive person. All I can think about is Rocky. Please drive carefully because that will be me, earbuds in, hood hanging low, jogging down 285 to eye of the tiger. Move over princess, the lob queen is coming to town.
I love walking into the wind. I have an image of a man in a suit leaning forward mid step, pulling an umbrella that has turned inside out. He pushes forward, holding onto his hat. I think about that image a lot when it’s windy and consider perseverance. When I lived on the Big Island we stayed in a tent on my boyfriend’s parents’ undeveloped property, in Puako. There was a shed with a weather station and little vane that would spin violently. At night, I thought for sure the ocean was coming right over us and going to sweep us away. When the weather station said the wind was 30mph I felt I could lean my whole body into it. With all my might, I would push forward, like the man with the umbrella. That was me outside moments ago. If I had had my phone I would have looked up the weather to see how hard it was blowing but I left it home on purpose.
In the beginning, I was sure there was no way this cell phone thing would catch on. I made fun of my sister when she got one. She’s ten years older than me and we didn’t grow up together. She is my mother’s ex-boyfriend’s daughter. We lived with her and her dad when I was one for about a year. I was a teenager when the super cool people started getting phones.
“That’s so stupid!” I snorted. “Who would ever want to carry a phone around?” I rolled my eyes and silenced my beeper, successfully ignoring my mother’s second 911 message.
For years I shook my head at all the idiots and held out. I had no idea what I was in for. Then in my early thirties, I got my first smart phone. I felt like I won. I could google any answer I needed and my dad couldn’t make fun of me anymore for not knowing anything. Technology makes me more knowledgeable and feel smarter, no question. My concerns lie elsewhere.
I worked with a second grader who said when he grew up he was going to call the owner of Facebook and tell him Facebook ruined his life. He said his mom caught his dad talking to other ladies on Facebook and now his dad is gone. A fourth grader had a similar story and now it is hard to think of one broken family I learned of through work where social media had nothing to do with it. When I worked with teenagers seven years ago, cyber bullying was the norm. I knew girls to literally tear each other’s hair out and open their skin with razor blades over who called who a slut on social media. Sure, fighting and cutting was happening long before the internet but now hateful sentiments can be omniscient for those who have no interest in putting down their phones. I worry for the state of our relationships as humans when I see grade schoolers smuggling their smart phones into school.
On the other hand, many adults I meet love the convenience of sharing their lives with everyone they know. Still, nobody wants to be judged harshly, or feel like an outsider. We all crave quality connection. So, like ads in magazines promising beauty and joy, many market themselves online boasting adventures and proving they have friends. I wonder if older adults may have an advantage because they have pre-internet experience of forming close relationships.
I was watching a tribute to the Queen on Netflix. Generations of the royal family have taken videos over the years playing outdoors. Now, one could question what their connection would be like if the camera wasn’t rolling but the point was this: Playing outdoors together is good for us, a tried and true way to relate to each other. With all the advancements helping us stay in touch, our connection to ourselves and others has suffered. I think it is good to leave the phone at home, to resist the force of our changing climate and push forward toward more meaningful connections and experience.
It is difficult for me to pick one gender or age group that I feel most comfortable working with in the Therapist role. For much of my career I have worked with at-risk youth. I developed a curriculum to increase literacy and improve communication for 7-9 year old girls that came out of my work as a camp counselor for Girls Inc. in Santa Fe and contributed to my Bachelor's Degree in Counseling Psychology from Wells College in Aurora, NY ('05). When I attended Wells College it was single sex, all female. This was an important choice for me as I feel humans behave differently in gender-exclusive environments. I was focused on my education and did not want to be distracted by the competitive dynamic inevitable in co-ed environments.
When I worked as a Resident Assistant at the youth shelter in Santa Fe. My own tumultuous adolescence gives me an intimate understanding of teen angst. I feel particularly effective at quickly establishing trust and fostering positive change in the lives of the adolescents I work with.
Caring for my grandfather in the last part of his life, I completed my Master's Degree in Counseling Psychology at Southwestern College ('08). Southwestern College specializes in Transformational Psychology, integrating spiritual awareness with a holistic approach to mind/body health. I have found the training I received at Southwestern to be extremely relevant to the Clients I serve at Eldorado Behavioral Health. I think most people are looking for a sense of wholeness and integration, whether they know it or not.
As a Multi-Systemic Therapist for Teambuilders Counseling Services (2010-2013) I had my first opportunity to work with entire families and their communities. The intensive (multiple hours per week), home-based yet wide-reaching (extending out, increasing community involvement therefore increasing resources) model of therapy was invaluable to my education as a Therapist. Through this work I learned how each part of a system effects every other. Change ripples through the individual, the family and changes the community at large. This was extremely informative, experiential and rewarding work.
In 2013, my work with at-risk youth merged with my love of horses when I began co-facilitating Equine Assisted Therapy at Ranch Dubois in Corrales, NM. At Ranch Dubois I helped clients to identify feelings through body awareness, taught emotional regulation, and helped clients identify and explore personal boundaries. The horses are equal partners in the “therapy team” including a horse specialist, and a therapist. In Equine-Assisted Therapy, The horses’ body language, behavior, and expressions mirror what the client is feeling. Equine assisted work is great for those clients who have trouble using their voices, have histories of traumatic stress, or behavioral issues including verbal and physical aggression.
These diverse experiences have taught me the complexity of human nature and relations. On a personal level essentially, connecting with others through empathy and shared suffering has brought me much healing and insight. Maintaining healthy boundaries and caring for myself have been, and are currently, predominant themes. A renewed and rewarding relationship with my mother, my work in counseling youth, adults (in all stages of life), and whole families has given me a valuable, unique perspective into the human experience that I enjoy sharing with my Clients.
Meira Petersen is a Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LPCC). Meira received her Master's degree in Counseling Psychology from Southwestern College in Santa Fe, NM.