Are you dreading the holidays? Chances are it’s because every year your family stresses you out when all you’re trying to do is take a break from the stress of work. It’s especially bad if seeing your family evokes painful memories and dredges issues you would rather save for a therapist.
To help you manage this stress, here are six tips for staying calm and dealing with the most challenging members of your family. They might reduce that holiday dread.
1. Set Boundaries
Sometimes family members upset us frequently to the point where we have a rough idea of how long it takes for them to stress us out. Do you know what your limit us? If so, make sure you can say goodbye to your family before approaching that limit. Tell them your time frame ahead of the reunion so they can manage their expectations. This will also help you avoid hurting their feelings.
If you don’t know what your limit is, try to be careful and figure it out for next time. For now air on the conservative side.
You can also set limits on what you’re going to do when you’re with family. If they have a holiday habit of goading or guilting you into something you hate, tell them ahead of time that you’re not going to put up with that.
2. Prepare Your Partner to Help You
If your partner knows your mom tends to ask prying personal questions only when you and she are alone, he or she can stay by your side when your mother follows you into the kitchen. Even if your partner doesn’t recognize tense situations brewing, you can help by using a code word that means, “Please help deflect this awkwardness!”
If your family members invade your privacy or say insulting things, it is likely because they are feeling bad about themselves or were raised to think this sort of behavior is normal. In the moment you may still feel angry and hurt. Over the long-term, however, trying to understand your family members’ perspectives can ameliorate their impact on you. Working with a therapist can help you explore why your family members act in the ways they do.
4. Share Positive Memories
Instead of engaging in political discussions you know will end up frustrating you and your family members, try to steer the conversation to positive family memories. It can diffuse tension to laugh about these times, or make you feel closer and more connected. If you find it hard to think of memories on your own, you can bring out old family photo albums to spark conversation.
5. Limit Alcohol Consumption
The holidays can be a time when people drink far more than usual. If you feel stressed around your family, you may be tempted to use drinking as a coping mechanism. Far from helping, this usually leads to more explosive arguments when inhibitions are lowered.
Try not to have more than one or two drinks around any family member who triggers you emotionally. You may end up saying or doing something you regret.
6. Maintain Your Self-Care Routines
Many people find the holidays to be such a hectic time of year that their usual self-care activities go out the window. Exercise, meditation, journaling, visiting your therapist, attending support groups and spending time outdoors can all go by the wayside due to a whirlwind schedule of holiday activities (not to mention cold weather).
This leaves many people feeling less centered and more irritable, and more easily triggered by difficult family interactions. Try to stick to your usual self-care routine — or develop a new one, if you have none — to remain more calm around the holidays.