The holidays, while nostalgically depicted as harmonious and joy-filled, can add additional stress to already-strained family relationships. You may want to get away from it all, but that’s not always an option. As the holidays approach, you can take a few steps to make sure your family stays intact and enjoys the festivities. Here are seven tips to help you do just that.
1. Acknowledge Your Feelings
It’s normal to feel anxious or overwhelmed during the holidays. If your family is “difficult” or has unresolved hurt feelings, this time of year can be especially stressful. Acknowledge your feelings and don’t try to force yourself into a situation that you’re not comfortable with. Don’t ignore those feelings; acknowledge them and try to work through them in a healthy way. Talk to someone you trust, or even write down your thoughts in a journal if that helps. When you recognize how you’re feeling, you will better manage any potential conflicts that may arise during the holiday season.
2. Set Boundaries
It’s important for everyone involved to know what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t so that everyone knows when they are crossing a line. Agree beforehand on which topics are simply off-limits and how to handle disagreements that may arise. If you’re uncomfortable discussing a certain topic, make it known before the conversation starts. And don’t be afraid to change the subject or politely excuse yourself if things start getting heated.
3. Remember The Good Times and Find Common Ground
Many people may have some fond memories of past holiday gatherings with their families—even if they don’t always agree on everything. Try to redirect focus on those positive moments when tensions start rising between family members during this year’s festivities, and use those happy memories as an example of how things could go right this year, too. Reminiscing about good times together can help lighten the mood and remind us why we love our families despite all their quirks and differences (and even arguments!).
4. Practice Self-Care
Even though spending time with your family is important, taking care of yourself is just as important. Make sure you are setting aside some alone time for yourself each day so that you don’t become overwhelmed or exhausted by being around people constantly—especially if those people are particularly challenging at times!
Taking breaks throughout the day will give you a chance to recharge mentally before having conversations with loved ones who may push your buttons more often.
5. Choose Activities to Participate In
Remember why we celebrate the holidays in the first place—to spend quality time with our loved ones. Focus on enjoying each other’s company and creating lasting memories together as a family unit this season. Try playing board games, cooking, baking, watching a holiday movie together, ice skating or doing activities that remove focus from difficult conversations to other mentally or physically stimulating activities.
If being inside becomes suffocating, try going for a brisk walk outside and admiring the winter scenery.
Even the best of circumstances can be made worse by the introduction of alcohol. If your family is known to drink heavily at gatherings, it’s best to limit how much each individual consumes or even avoid drinking entirely. It will help keep everyone in a positive mood instead of creating a negative atmosphere which can lead to more arguments or disagreements between family members.
7.Have an Exit Plan
If things do get too heated, it’s important to know how you will handle the situation in advance. Have an exit plan—such as a reason you can use to step away from the conversation, or leave entirely—so that you don’t find yourself stuck in an uncomfortable situation with no way out.
Bonus Tip: Sometimes, it’s simply ok to say, “no”.
Some personal relationships, including those between family members, are simply broken down past a point of repair. It is not wrong to choose not to spend time with family members who are toxic and/or abusive. You need to do what is best for your mental and physical health, as well as that of those you care for, so do not feel guilty or obligated to be around those individuals if it will hurt you or them in the long run.
Remember that just because someone is related to you, doesn’t mean you must stay in the relationship. It’s ok to choose a different path and create your own newer, and potentially healthier, relationships.
Need assistance navigating family relationships now, during the holidays or throughout the year? Consider speaking with a mental health professional. A psychiatrist can provide guidance and support to help you process your emotions, create strategies for managing conflict, and build healthier relationships with family members.
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Disclaimer: The information contained here was not written by a medical doctor and is intended for informational purposes only. This is not a substitute for medical advice.
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