Managing Holiday Stress

By Carol Kirkpatrick, author of ARIA READY, The Business of Singing
Holiday time without the added pressure of being a performer can be a trial all by itself; having to deal with the family dynamics can put one over the edge for sure. We often look forward to going home for the holidays and have some idealized vision of what it will look, sound and feel like. That is until we are actually home for a couple of hours or days and then it seems like the wheels tend to fall off of that emotionally anticipated comfort zone. Instead of being the dynamic, self assured, smart, competent, happy, and well adjusted grown-up that you are now, you fall back into playing whatever role you took on within the family dynamics when you were a kid. Everyone starts pushing your buttons and you start reacting by pushing back and everyone’s emotions are off and running. No matter how you try, it seems impossible to get out of this emotional state, even if you are lucky. To be able to notice and recognize that this is what is happening to you and your relationships with each extended family member and even with old friends is where you need to put your energy and a starting point.
Having some skills and tools to turn that old role playing around not just for you, but for your whole family, is such a gratifying and positive experience that it is well worth making the new, in control, outcome one of the gifts you are going to be giving everyone this year, including yourself. No one said it was going to be easy. So I guess the question is, are you up for it?
The first skill you need is to be awake, conscious and present. That means you need to go home with a specific agenda. And that would be knowing what the family dynamic game is, what the rules are and most importantly, how the game is played by each member. Not an easy task when you start to feel the pull of the game starting. It happens so fast, that often we don’t even notice that we are being pulled back into this time warp.
But you can do it. It doesn’t mean that you are going to be 100% successful the first go-around. But each time you slip into that game you can simply remember who you are right now, an adult however imperfect, but an adult, so you can make the choice to become in charge of how you want your world to function. It’s time to step up and when you start to see, hear or feel that pull into “the game” you can simply say to the other participant something in a normal voice with no downgrading inflections, like, “Hey, let’s not play that game anymore. It’s seems really childish, don’t you think?”, and simply walk off. It has to be done in a casual, light, and yet sincere way. The first couple of times you change the rules of the game like this, it will leave others astonished and surprised. They will not know quite how to react and that is exactly how one starts to change the rules of the game. They will try even harder to engage you in “the game” looking for the usual reaction and may call on others to participate on their behalf. The good news is that when they start to understand that you can’t and won’t be drawn into their game, they will start trying to figure out what the new game is and how they might fit into it. However if they are so invested in only playing their game their way, they may leave your circle for good and look for others that are more interested in reacting and bringing others down because it makes them feel better about themselves. These are folks you don’t really need in your life. You are looking for others of like mind that share and support your values, ideas, and choices in life.
Know that getting caught up in our emotions in an unconscious manner doesn’t only happen in real time or in face to face encounters. We can be drawn in through the virtual world via Skype, through email, Facebook, Twitter or whatever. Your job is to be awake, alert, conscious and very present so you can notice when that first tug and twist of unbridled emotion shows up. That is your alarm system saying you have a choice here. You can either give in and be swallowed up and out of control emotionally reacting in an unconscious manner with probably an unsatisfying outcome physically and mentally. Or you can choose to change the game by stepping out of that emotional, destructive, all consuming family dynamic of a game, looking at it for what it is and choosing to take action or not, whatever seems logical and beneficial to all.
Happy Holidays to you all and let me hear from you on this subject. Ciao, Carol
Email Carol at

Since retiring from the stage, Carol Kirkpatrick continues to be in demand as a voice teacher, clinician, and adjudicator of competitions including the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Combining her knowledge of performance, business, and interpersonal skills, she has written the second edition of her highly regarded book, Aria Ready: The Business of Singing, a step-by-step career guide for singers and teachers of singing. Aria Ready has been used by universities, music conservatories and summer and apprentice programs throughout the world as a curriculum for teaching Ms. Kirkpatrick’s process of career development, making her “the” expert in this area. She lives in Denver, Colorado.

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