‘Tis the season for otherwise reasonable people to become short-tempered, snappish, or downright frantic. The pressure we put on ourselves and others to create a “perfect” meal/day/season is, quite simply, ridiculous. It will suck all the joy out of what should be a wonderful time of year, if you let it. While the admonitions to “just breathe” or “slow down” are all good and well, those are a little slippery for some of us in our more stressed-out moments. Instead, consider a small arsenal of phrases to pull out as needed; they’re guaranteed to cut tension, build connections, and make life more pleasant.
“What can I do to help?” There is no more magical phrase in the English language, I am certain, particularly if it’s offered in sincerity. This one works for any situation, from a hectic dinner preparation to a last-minute meeting. Sometimes the offer itself is enough to calm someone else who really needs it. (Bonus: If the answer is “Nothing,” find something to do, anyway, even if it’s just being present. But make sure to check that your presence is okay—“I’m just going to sit here with you for a minute, then, if that’s okay.”)
“We’re not saving lives, here.” My family likes this one as a reminder when a non-life-or-death situation has somehow escalated into overblown importance. If you are saving lives, my hat is off to you, and obviously don’t use this in the middle of CPR. But for most of us, whether or not the green beans are done when the turkey is a preference, not a crisis. Light-hearted reminders of such can not only break the immediate tension, they can remind everyone involved that there’s important and there’s everything else.
“Take your time, I’m not in a rush.” I went to the grocery store yesterday and three different people apologized to me for things that weren’t a problem at all. (In fact, even if I had been in a hurry, the grocery cart in my way, the man who didn’t realize I was standing behind him, and the woman whose chicken didn’t want to scan at the checkout weren’t delaying me by much.) We are so accustomed to rushed/angry people at this time of year, we assume our mere presence may be inconvenient to those around us. And that’s sad. There’s a tremendous amount of power in letting someone know they needn’t worry that you’re going to get annoyed with them. Bonus points if you assure someone that you, too, are capable of picking the only chicken in the case that won’t scan properly.
“I like you. I’m glad I have you in my life.” My kids think it’s funny when I tell them that I like them, but the truth of the matter is that I love them no matter what. Liking them, on the other hand, is optional. And when you tell someone you love that you like them, it’s a reminder that—choices and family ties and circumstances aside—you value them just for who they are. That’s powerful, for both of you. “I like you” is high praise in our family, and hey, it turns out that coworkers and friends dig hearing it, too. Who doesn’t want to hear that they’re valued?
“Yes.” Perhaps the most powerful word we have, saying yes—to a request, to a feeling, to a declaration—is how we make an instant connection to others. Make this your season of saying yes and see how your days unfold; the changes will be small, but I guarantee you’ll be amazed.
What would you consider your magic holiday phrase?