Holiday Love

By ruth | April 10, 2015

Contributed by Jennifer Lo, Management Consultant and a Certified Trainer with Equilibrium Dynamics.

EQD Trainee Perspectives: In our last post, we heard from three of our trainees, who shared their reflections on holiday stress and how to plan for a smoother season next year. One of our trainees, Jennifer Lo, wrote an expanded reflection on a topic dear to many of our hearts: navigating family dynamics during the holiday season. She shares how her blended family uses emotional competence skills to make the most of the holidays.


The shiny ornaments and lights were going up; holiday shopping deals flooding email inboxes, and cafes and restaurants all over the Bay Area were serving up pumpkin spice- or peppermint-flavored everything. It was the time of year, more than any other, when we should honor love and family. This is great in theory, but our blended family can’t help but experience some cynicism. Honoring family and feeling thankful requires a bit of emotional competence effort.


My daughter lives with us full-time, and my spouse has two children who live with us part-time.  This year, my stepdaughters returned to their mom the morning after Thanksgiving. On Christmas, we weren’t going to see them at all.  So two of our daughters had to wait almost a week after Christmas to see their presents. It's a year that really challenged us emotionally. Sometimes, the general spirit of “holiday giving” can come to mean a sense of “holiday giving up” instead.  Just answering the question, “How do you plan to spend the holidays with your family this year?” invites uncomfortable conversations about our entire family structure.


To keep the holiday spirit alive, my spouse and I checked-in on our emotions and used the EQD “big four” concepts: thinking, feeling, good judgment, and action. We reminded each other to remain flexible in case of changes and to stay focused as a team so that we can help our girls deal with all of the transitions. With the range of holiday stressors, being able to process what's happening right now (thinking), reflecting on our emotions (feeling), and carefully deciding which problems to address (good judgment) helped us to make the best decisions possible, so that we could fully enjoy the time when we were all together (action). These particular issues recur every year for us, and although it can be challenging, it is important to differentiate between what's happening in the moment and any residual bitterness from events in the past. These EQD concepts helped us build in time to pause and reflect, and think deeply about short- and long-term decisions.

            Reflecting on the holiday stress from last year, all the pre-holiday strategizing and planning seems worth the extra effort. Making sure we didn't overbook ourselves really helped us enjoy quality time with friends and loved ones. With a more reasonable schedule, instead of trying to do everything and see everybody, it reduced the holiday stress so much that I can't recall it being a bother at all at this point! The lasting memories from the holidays are of joy, peace and love! 

Efforts put into emotional competence really can pay off.


We’re excited to introduce a new blog series highlighting the work and insights of our Emotional Competence Trainees! Our trainees have completed EQD’s Certified Emotional Competence Specialist Training, Level 1 which teaches basic emotional competence concepts, principles and skills, and prepares trainees to teach others while also putting those skills to work in their own lives. In this series, our trainees will weigh in on navigating nitty-gritty emotional challenges, share their go-to tools, and more.

With the holiday season safely behind us, we thought we’d ask our trainees how they use their emotional skills to cope with holiday stress--and what we’d like to do better next time. A little distance goes a long way to help us think clearly about our feelings.

Shana Levy, MD, from our 2011 cohort, saw the stress coming, and set up a plan. “My goal: keep up with good self care, like exercise, reflection and time alone from the intensity, so that I could prevent feeling pulled in too many directions.” The season stayed true to its roller-coaster form, and the plan kicked into gear: “My holiday season was full of exciting new beginnings, and with those beginnings came potentially overwhelming challenges. I was reminded of the tremendous power of intense sudden feelings. When those feelings arose, I did my best to pause, calm myself, journal and seek guidance when needed. These processes helped me feel supported and loved, and prevented me from inadvertently exacerbating situations.” That’s what we like to hear!  

As Christmas rolled around, 2013 trainee Renée Georgulas was anxious about managing gift-giving expectations in her family, and her own sense of responsibility. “In an effort to step away from the commercialization of Christmas, I told my extended family that I would only be giving out my homemade truffles. It feels good to give something I have made. But this year, a key ingredient was difficult to find, and I became anxious that any new concoction would not be good enough to give as a gift. I ended up making the truffles, but with less time, and I was much more anxious.” Although the difficulty of gift-giving persisted, Renee used it as an opportunity to use her EQD skills. “I kept stepping back from the situation to assess how I felt, and what I wanted to do. I decided to give gifts only to those I wanted to and to not think about what might be expected of me by others. In the end, I felt very good about the holiday season and my decisions and actions.”

2010 trainee Portia Jackson DrPH, MPH focused on reminding her clients to practice self-awareness and take time for themselves. “We get so busy with 'doing' during this season--going to holiday parties, shopping for gifts, and trying to make others happy. I reminded them that mindfulness can help them stay calm and keep their budgets in check.” With the holidays behind us, Portia is encouraging her clients to make self-care a priority throughout the year. “My current clients are asked to consider whatever is going on in their life as they create their goals. Assuming that ‘life happens’, we come up with ideas and solutions to work around it.”

And, she’s taking her own advice to heart. “One major change for me is that I am building a monthly self-care regimen that is affordable and enjoyable. I noted that I could have taken more time off before dealing with a busy first quarter of the year, and will be mindful of that during the next holiday season. For now, my monthly self-care practice and mindfulness moments are helping me deal more effectively with stress.”

In nine months, the holiday season will be here again. Consider this the time for “off-season training,” when we can build up good self-care habits, and coast into the holidays ready for action. Thanks to our trainees who shared their experiences!

Next in the series: It’s Take-Your-Emotional-Competence-to-Work Day!