by Shoshana Levie, LCSW
Ah, summertime. The season of barbecues, days at the beach, and lots of family togetherness. For many, this can be a restorative and enjoyable eight weeks, when adults’ work schedules are more flexible and kids are home for the summer. However, for others, the increased family time can beget more family conflict. Some chafing is inevitable when spending day in and day out with the same people- no matter how much we love them- so it is important to have some tools in our toolbox to help us cool off. The following two approaches can help us not only survive potentially stressful situations, but enhance our connections with others.
1. Use the STOP skill. The STOP skill comes from Dialectical Behavior Therapy. It stands for: S- stop!, T- take a step back, O- observe, P- proceed mindfully. STOP is a useful skill for moments when we are about to act impulsively and potentially make things worse in the long run. An example of the STOP skill in action would be if you are on vacation with your partner and you really want to head out to the beach with them but they are still sleeping. You start getting annoyed and frustrated, thinking, “This is not how I want to spend my vacation! Who wants to be trapped in a room when there is a beautiful beach out there?!” You are tempted to start making a lot of noise, loudly slamming doors and drawers to wake them up. But in the back of your mind you know that this will lead to an argument. So instead you:
Stop- Freeze! Don’t slam that drawer! Don’t even move a muscle.
Take a step back- Physically take a step back, remove yourself from the situation or at the very least from the drawer handle.
Observe- Take a moment to observe what is happening right now. Your partner just got off a long month at work, spending 12+ hours a day in the office- they are exhausted. Consider for yourself if you would be willing to wait another hour to go to the beach so that they have a chance to start recuperating too.
Proceed mindfully- Decide that it is worth the peace and relaxation to wait another hour before calmly waking your partner to head on out for the day. This can help tee you up for greater connection than had the storm not happened in the first place.
2. Practice mindfulness. When you start to notice annoyance, frustration or some other distressing emotion threatening to bubble over, try and institute a practice of mindfully observing and describing how you feel. The first step is to observe the emotion, just like you might observe a wave on the beach, coming in and out, in and out. Notice the physical sensations of the emotion – where you feel tension in your body. The next step is to imagine surfing the wave without judgment, and without trying to push the wave (emotion) away. Remind yourself that you are not your emotions, and you don’t always need to act in accordance with how you feel. Finally, practice loving and respecting your emotions, accepting that they are there for right now but will ebb out again once more. In order to practice mindfulness, it is important to give yourself some time and space to focus on your own needs. While summer may be the prime time for family vacations and gatherings, make sure to also fill your own cup with activities you enjoy or simply some quiet time, in order to remain mindful and aware of how you feel. This could look like a morning meditation, a walk on the beach, or 30 minutes of uninterrupted reading. The possibilities are endless, and the outcome tends to be closer relationships with others.