The holidays are supposed to be a happy, family time. Ironically, the holidays are also one of the most stressful times of the year—precisely because it’s family time.
Being Around Family at Holiday Time Can Cause Stress
It’s a family tradition to all get together at Grandma’s or Uncle Bill’s even though that means you may have to travel in the dead of winter. The gift buying can be even more difficult than the travel as you try to squeeze it all out of your budget. Once you make there, you may have to patiently listen to Aunt Alma aches and pains and her many doctor visits or Cousin Jimmy trying to convince you of his importance at his work. Additionally politics or current world affairs are topics no one can agree on, so steer clear of that. No wonder you get stressed just thinking about it.
It’s not the holidays. It’s our expectations about them that give us heartburn. In our fantasy view, everything is perfect; we live in a Norman Rockwell painting where everybody loves everybody, the food is fantastic, the weather is perfect and nobody gets sick.
But we know that reality is different. Families are different. Today we deal with sometimes 3 or 4 generations, as well as, blended families. We don’t really expect them to hold the same opinions do we? Do the kids spend Christmas Eve with Dad and his new wife, or with Mom? We know that family roles have shifted. Grandma wants to host Christmas dinner as usual, but we’d much rather stay home and enjoy the kids and take it easy.
When we do the traditional thing, adults are likely to act like children again, falling into old patterns of conflict. None of us are perfect and you might say we all have our own baggage. The result may not be pretty.
If you’ve lost someone this year, you may be facing sadness or depression, the holidays can be especially difficult as we think about them and miss then and realize that life is very different.
Additionally it’s cold and flu season and as we scurry to get everything done, we may get run down. Our defenses are down, our immune systems vulnerable. We may not be getting enough sleep. We’re eating and drinking more than is good for us and not really taking good care of ourselves or our health.
How to Be Cool
A few suggestions to keep you from losing your cool around family during the holidays:
Choose Your Tradition
Decide what part of your current holiday tradition you want to keep. If what you’ve always done for the holidays—traveling back home, spending a lot of money and time with such a large group of people leaves you feeling like you really didn’t get to connect with any of them- maybe it’s time to reevaluate. Choose to keep the traditions that work for you. Think about what are the most important things that give you true Christmas joy. Who are the people that you want to spend time with and enjoy the holidays with? Then make a decision that makes you happy.
Don’t Expect a Miracle
Keep your expectations realistic. Grandpa Joe is not going to change his attitude about many things, so learn to laugh it off or walk away. You may have to accept less-than-perfect weather, gifts, decorations, food, and companions. Know that drama may happen. When people have a lot in common, they tend to focus more on differences. Take a breath, slow and deep, and know that as they say, This too will pass and let it go. Seek out those you enjoy talking with and spend your time there. Laugh and value the moments.
If you’re over committed, over scheduled or overworked, the holidays are going to be more difficult. Learn to say, “Sorry, I’d love to but I can’t…maybe next year,” and don’t feel guilty about it. If it all feels too hectic, take a break. Take yourself out for coffee. Schedule a massage. Watch a movie at home. Get some much needed sleep. Take a walk.
Stick to your budget. Don’t over indulge in food or alcohol. Don’t worry about what others think. Honor your choices and accept your limits. You’ll be glad you did.
Keep It Light
As for those toxic relatives, hold on to your sense of humor. Accept people as they are. Avoid hot topics and confrontation. It might be appropriate to reach out before the family gathering to talk about a difference or settle an argument. Try not to take opposition or conflict personally. Prime yourself to notice the good stuff. Your brother’s attitude may bother you, but remember, he’s kind to children and animals.
Have an Exit Strategy
If worse comes to worse, keep your options open. Stay at a hotel instead of your parents’ house so you have a quiet retreat if you need it. Arrange a signal with your spouse or partner so you can graciously extract yourself if the situation is too overwhelming. Remember you don’t always have to express your opinion, you can walk away.
With all the stresses of the holiday season, it’s good to know that most families are resilient. We weather the conflicts, adjust to changing roles, learn to take care ourselves and manage annoying relatives while enjoying the rest. Making plans, accepting compromises, keeping our perspective, and bringing a sense of humor to the celebration can go a long way toward giving us a stress-free family holiday. And remember, take a deep breath and try to find some joy in the moment. Happy Holidays to you and yours.