Don’t Forget to Breathe

Posted on November 21, 2018 by Jenn Zatopek

Hello, dear readers. Welcome to round one of the holiday escapades: Thanksgiving. (Cue the sound of a gong going off.) As someone who has struggles with uncertainty and stress, I am doubling down on my self-care practices including prayer and meditation, daily gratitude lists, and calling only the people who are kind, loving, responsive, and affirming.

Do me a favor and remember to find those people right now. If you are expecting respectful behavior from folks who have a pattern of behaving in ways that are mean, indifferent, hurtful, vindictive, or rude, step away from the phone please! You will thank me later. Our friends and family who cannot or will not behave kindly will most likely not behave in new ways this holiday. At least, until they decide to change their behaviors and show us that they are trustworthy.

I am not saying this is impossible because the human heart is a great mystery, but I am asking that you review historical evidence.  If certain family members call you names or uses guilt as a way to communicate, consider stepping away for a brief respite. It really is okay to do so.

Personally, I have a “do not call” list of folks I stay away from during stressful times. I find this tough to accept because while I may desire to love everyone in my life, I need to accept that not everyone in my family is a safe person for me to connect with, especially during the holiday season. In addition, if you need a model for setting boundaries with others, please see Jesus for evidence.

Jesus did not encourage us to pursue others who have a long-standing pattern of hurting us.  In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus specifically orders his disciples to “leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet” if they are not welcomed (Matt. 10:14). His perspective can help us today, reminding us that we can practice peace and detach from others with compassion at the same time!

We really aren’t meant to keep exposing ourselves to hurtful behavior in order to preserve notions of traditional family. We are meant to set wise boundaries with those who have a history of hurting us, which strengths our compassion. It gives us grace for the times when we do decide to make contact with those family members, braving the arena as Dr. Brene Brown would say.

Around this time of year, much to my own chagrin, I choose to avoid certain family members because of dangerous interpersonal dynamics and while that is not my preference,  I save myself. That is the most important thing for those of us who tend to reach for stagnant ponds, of relationships that are not life-giving or fruitful.

Please, don’t drink the water. Reach for the people who love you and treat you with kindness, love, and respect. We show people how to treat us when we learn to accept behavior that is warm and hospitable, generous and tolerant.  You are worth it.

And in the words of my beloved mentor: don’t forget to breathe this week!


Meditation during stressful seasons is saving my life. I use a variety of resources including Dr. Kristin Neff’s self-compassion guided meditations. She is a Buddhist psychologist who teaches at University of Texas, and I can’t recommend her meditations enough. For those of you who practice Christianity, the Liturgist’s Garden meditation is very soothing and is based on the practice of stillness, taken directly from the Psalms.

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