“Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family … in another city.” – George Burns
Does your anxiety spike at just the thought of spending time with certain family members during the holidays? Although this is thought to be the most joyous time of year, the reality is, it’s often the most stressful. Much of our stress involves time with family.
Maybe it’s that one argumentative family member, passive-aggressive great aunt, or the one who’s perpetually running late. Perhaps you have a large family you feel compelled to split time with. Who gets time on Thanksgiving? What about Christmas Eve? If you spend Christmas morning with this family, does the other family feel offended? It can be exhausting. Not surprisingly, by the time November rolls around, we just want to get the whole thing over with.
There have been many articles written about how to make the holidays a little more bearable in these situations. I have added a few tips of my own that have been helpful for people over the years.
RECOGNIZE YOU CAN’T PLEASE EVERYONE
Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “if you try to please everyone, you’ll end up pleasing no one.” The ‘no one’ in this case includes yourself. Think of past holidays. Does this ring true for you? You work so hard to try and meet everyone’s needs that you end up feeling tired, miserable, and angry at everyone? You can’t meet everyone’s expectations. This doesn’t mean you should approach the holiday season with a selfish attitude. But make sure that you’re including people and traditions that are important to you as well.
DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY
As a general rule of thumb, people’s thoughts and actions are a reflection of them not you. You can’t control other people. If someone is argumentative, offensive, or demeaning that doesn’t mean you deserve it or had it coming. It also does not mean you didn’t do enough to please everyone. You are not responsible for other people’s feelings or behaviors. Those behaviors are about them, not you. Although others can be hurtful, you don’t have to take responsibility for them.
HAVE A PLAN
What’s important to you this holiday season? What traditions and experiences do you want to have? Talk it over with your spouse and family. Together, decide how you would like to approach significant days and get-togethers. It’s really important to collaborate together to minimize miscommunication and faulty assumptions. Being around family and friends is an important part of the holiday season, but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice all of your own expectations for everyone else. You will only end up feeling resentful for it.
KNOW WHAT’S MOST UPSETTING
When you’re around other family members, what tends to be the most upsetting? What leads you to feel stressed? Do you know who you are most likely to clash with? Knowing this information is important. Begin working on not personalizing their words or actions ahead of time. Visualization is a powerful tool. Identify how you would want to respond to anticipated challenges and run through it in your mind. Try practicing with a partner. You can also begin identifying some boundaries you might want to set. For example, place limits around the amount of time you spend around some family or identify how you want to exit gracefully.
IDENTIFY AN EXIT STRATEGY
How do you want to handle it when you’ve had enough? How can you leave without the situation escalating? Create a safe word or action with a significant other to indicate you need help. This signals them to “rescue” you from the conversation or even suggest that it’s time to leave. You may also decide ahead of time how long you want to stay. If you’re travelling out of town, be careful not to schedule too long a stay if there’s a history of difficult interactions. Even the closest of families in cramped quarters can tire of each other quickly. If you are visiting someone in town, have a plan in mind for how long you want to stay. Stick to the schedule. If you are a supporting spouse, honor your time commitment.
REMEMBER WHY YOU’RE CELEBRATING
There’s a reason you want to enjoy yourself this time of year. Remind yourself of the reasons you want to celebrate in the first place. Take time to purposefully feel appreciation and gratitude. Write down what you are grateful for or share those thoughts with others. Encourage others and remind them of how special they are to you. Spend time around your family and celebrate with them. Just don’t feel like you have to meet everyone’s needs or put up with things that you normally wouldn’t.
The holiday season is both happy and stressful for several reasons. If you’re grieving a loss and this is a hard time of year, you may find my post about holiday grief to be helpful. If there are long-standing conflicts that make this time of year challenging, check out my series on forgiveness. Using the above strategies may help you find more joy than anxiety this year. Talking to someone can add different perspectives as well. Find a trusted friend or even a therapist to help you identify and set boundaries if the season brings a significant amount of stress. I hope this year’s holidays bring you much joy and peace.