Though to some the holiday season means twinkly lights, feasts, football, presents and more, to others this brings on feelings of dread as a series of family functions draws near. Let’s begin by remembering that the holidays can be tough for many people for many reasons and that that is entirely normal. So, whether you are close with your family and just want to be the peace keeper or if you need a little extra help to get through the holidays with family, here are a few suggestions of way to try to make that process a bit smoother.
As the boy scouts’ motto has taught us for decades the best way to deal with any situation is to “be prepared”. If the reality of a rocky family dinner is unavoidable then at least you can have a plan to make the emotional obstacle course of an evening a bit easier to navigate.
- The preparations for the holidays might be more stressful and hectic than the actual family function itself, but try to take at least a little bit of time for yourself before heading in and reset, entering the situation in a more neutral and calm mental state. Though things will likely come up to challenge your hard won Zen, starting cool, calm, and collected allows you to lower your stress levels and make you less reactive, slowing down the feedback loop of increased agitation.
- Figure out what some boundaries might be that will help you through this event, and be ready to enforce them. If a relative makes a snide comment remind yourself that their words and actions are a reflection of their opinions and not necessarily anything more than that. Also remember it is well with in your rights to tell them gently but firmly that this isn’t a topic you wish to discuss with them and offer a change of subject for a more neutral conversation.
- If you are part of the planning of the evening or feel comfortable doing so bring/incorporate an activity. Board games, looking over family pictures, decoration making, cookie decorating, or any other structured engagement will help to shift focus from potentially unpleasant and touchy subjects. If having a group activity for everyone to participate in is not feasible try to have some options for yourself. If you’re getting irritated with a conversation or overwhelmed by all the personal questions your sister-in-law is asking excuse yourself to help set the table, do dishes, take the trash out, check in on the kids, etc. Having an exit strategy in place will help to put your mind at ease regardless of if you use it or not.
- On a logistical note, consider not staying with family. Sometimes extended exposure after a long time away is what causes irritation rather than any one topic or opinion. Though it might not be the most frugal option and might cause your parents to raise an eyebrow it might be worth staying in a hotel or at a friends house if it allows you to have more mental space to be present and enjoy the family dinner itself.
- In general, the biggest tip is that you can only control your own thoughts and reactions. If you find that emotions take over having a few mental tools at the ready to help you stay in the driver’s seat of your evening can be hugely helpful. For example, try to find a short breathing exercise that you can use to reset and slow down in the moment (for example in through the nose for a count of 5, out through the mouth for a count of 5 three times). If this isn’t something you feel comfortable doing another strategy could be to put yourself in the position of an observer. Try to look at the evening as if you’re watching a movie or observing a situation that you will write an article on later. This will give you some distance and an extra buffer to help keep your emotions from overtaking the situation.