Peter Pearson

It’s common knowledge that the holidays can be stressful for lots of people. Some of the stress comes from feeling overwhelmed by the added projects, tasks, expenses and other obligations of the season.

Perhaps you’re overwhelmed balancing expectations of different family members. Or you’re frustrated trying to make everyone happy.

Another kind of stress comes from other people in the extra social interactions and gatherings.

Maybe you’re caught off guard by zingers from a supporter of the “other” political party. Or you’re stuck in conversation with the brother-in-law who criticizes everybody for something – and you for everything.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a simple approach to manage or deflect these troublesome situations?

Help and advice is on the way.

That’s it!

Ask for help. Ask for advice.

It’s simple, but maybe not easy. And before you dismiss this as a tired, useless suggestion, read on to find out what asking does to the brain that amplifies its effect. I call it a “brain hack.”

First, asking for help in order to deflect an unpleasant conversation:

Let’s say you just received a criticism or provocation about – anything.

You simply reply, “That’s interesting, but first I could use your help with…[fill in the blank]. Would you help me?”

It could be setting the table, stirring something on the stove  or cleaning something up. This is especially good if you are feeling overwhelmed.

Here’s why it works:  it’s a “brain hack.”  Most people like to feel needed, and the request shifts the critical person from the judgmental part of their brain to the supportive part of their brain.

Asking for advice is a helpful variation.

To the person who offered a criticism or provocation, simply say, “That’s interesting, but if I could shift topics for a minute, I would like to get your advice about…[insert your question here].”

The advice could be about anything from how to make gravy that isn’t lumpy or getting stains out of carpets to how they deal with leftovers. It could be any topic the person might have experience with.

Again, this approach hacks their brain and moves them from negativity to the region that requires thinking. And most people feel good about being asked for advice.

What about the stress from all the extra demands of the season?

This stress isn’t brought on by things other people say. Maybe you’re just at home feeling overwhelmed with all you have to do. Is there a family member or friend you could ask to help? And, be honest with yourself… can you take some things off your list?

I said it was simple but maybe not easy. It’s especially difficult for people who hate asking for help or advice.

It is true a lot of men don’t like asking for directions! (If the shoe fits, wear it.)

But if you’re motivated to reduce some stress this holiday, just say, “Would you help me for a minute?” or “Can I get some advice from you?” Chances are that you'll feel some instant relief.

By the way, would you help me with something? I’d appreciate reading any comments you’d like to share about experimenting with this approach. Feel free to comment below. Thanks!


Peter Pearson, Ph.D., Relationship & Teamwork Expert for Entrepreneur Couples

Pete has been training and coaching couples to become a strong team since 1984 when he co-founded The Couples Institute with his psychologist wife, Ellyn Bader.

Their popular book, “Tell Me No Lies,” is about being honest with compassion and growing stronger as a couple.

Pete has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including “The Today Show,” "Good Morning America,” and "CBS Early Morning News,” and quoted in major publications including “The New York Times,” “Oprah Magazine,” “Redbook,” “Cosmopolitan,” and “Business Insider.”

A Glossary of Terms that are sometimes Confusing

Couples Therapy is a counseling procedure that seeks to improve the adjustment of two people who have created an interdependent relationship. There are no standard procedures to help two people improve their adjustments to each other. Generally, a more experienced therapist will offer more perspectives and tools to a couple. Length of treatment will depend on severity of problems, motivation and skills of the therapist. A couple can be dating, living together, married or separating and may be gay, lesbian or heterosexual.

Marriage Therapy is a term often used interchangeably with marriage counseling. The term marriage implies two people have created a union sanctioned by a government or religious institution. The methods used in marriage counseling, marriage therapy and couples therapy are interchangeable and depend more on the specific challenges of each unique couple.

Psychotherapy is one or more processes to help improve psychological and emotional functioning. Examples are psychoanalysis, cognitive therapy, behavior therapy, Gestalt therapy, Transactional Analysis, Rational-Emotive therapy, or group therapy. Many forms of psychotherapy are blends of different approaches. For example, newer forms of psychotherapy called energy psychology draw upon recent advances in brain and neuroscience. These approaches often build on cognitive behavioral methods.

Clinical Psychologist. After graduating from college, it usually takes about five years of graduate school to get a Ph.D. in Psycholgy. It then requires an additional two years of supervision and passing a written (and often) an oral exam. There are a few states that allow psychologists to prescribe medications (with additional training) but that is uncommon.

Psychiatrist. After graduation from medical school, there is a generally a 4-year psychiatric residency. After the completion of this training, psychiatrists must pass an exam issued by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology to obtain certification and legally practice in the field. Psychiatrists can prescribe medications.

Clinical Social Worker. This profession usually requires two years of study after obtaining an undergraduate degree. While specific licensure requirements vary by state, most require clinical social workers to obtain 3,000 hours or 2 years of supervised clinical experience, after obtaining a Masters degree. Social workers can also specialize in diverse fields such as human services management, social welfare analysis, community organizing, social and community development, and social and political research.

Marriage and Family Therapist. Obtaining this license requires a Masters degree which takes approximately two years of post graduate study. The license also requires 3000 hours of supervised work and passing written exams.

The Couples Institute. We have assembled a group of top notch therapists at The Couples Institute. Whatever marriage help or marriage advice you are looking for, we are here to serve you. While most other therapists see only a few couples a week, we specialize in marriage and couples relationships, working to develop and bring you the most current and effective approaches to couples therapy. For more information about couples therapy or marriage counseling, see our couples therapy section.

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5 years ago

I had several gifts to order on Etsy that required customization, and I typically spend way too much time deciding on colors and other details… so I just asked the sellers for their opinions and saved a lot of time and brain bending! Plus the gifts turned out way better than if I’d decided. Simple advice to ask advice – but very helpful!

5 years ago

I remembered that my sister and I have the same parents and that she seems to have an easier time dealing with their somewhat stressful dynamics. Instead of keeping my thoughts and emotions about it to myself as I usually try to do, I simply asked my sister how she handles it and it opened the way for a very good, long needed conversation. Sometimes asking builds better connections and that can counteract feelings of loneliness and pain.

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