For some people, the holidays are a joyous and festive time. But for many, the holidays are a time of stress, sadness, and loneliness. There may be long-standing family feuds, deaths, grief, and addictions that are heightened during the holidays. Rather than dread or avoid interactions with your family, though, there are alternatives to consider.
The most important thing that you can do to have a less stressful holiday is to set realistic expectations. This means identifying what is realistic to expect from yourself and others. If your family has heavy drinkers and there are often arguments during family gatherings, it makes sense to expect that to be true this holiday as well. In setting realistic expectations, ask yourself the following questions: (1) What situation is likely to cause the most stress? (2) What person is likely to cause the most stress? (3) Based on previous holidays, what problem usually happens during these gatherings?
After settling on what to expect, take the time to plan and prepare for the holiday. Make a plan to deal with the stress that you expect to encounter. Each plan will be different and specific to that particular situation. However, there are some key points to remember when planning to make your holiday less stressful:
- First, ask yourself what you need to get through this event. What will make the gathering more manageable for you? Consider limiting the time you spend at the event. A wonderful guiding rule is to stay for as long as you can be kind. Some people can stay for seven hours and remain kind, while for others it will be 20 minutes. Every family, circumstance, and individual need is different. Pay attention to what you need in order to be kind rather than comparing yourself to others.
- Stay for as long as you can be kind. This may mean leaving early. If you typically stay with your family for a full day but don’t plan to this year, inform your host or closest relative ahead of time. Let them know that your plans are different this year to give them time to adjust their expectations for the day as well.
- Bring a friend. An outsider can act as a buffer and mitigate the stress of the situation. Many times, families and colleagues are on “good behavior” when an outsider is present. If you have a family event or work gathering that you are concerned about attending, bring a friend to support you and be your buffer.
- Give yourself a job or task to accomplish. At stressful family gatherings, play with the kids instead of engaging in challenging conversations and interactions with the adults. Offer to be the go-fer and volunteer to run to the store for whatever last-minute item is needed. Taking breaks as needed throughout the event can help you stay there for as long as you can be kind.
- Managing yourself and others during the holiday season is a juggling act. You want to meet your needs while also tending to the needs of your family and your relationships with your family. As much stress and conflict as families can cause, they also play a key role in who we are. Though family events can be challenging, we can prepare ourselves to enjoy them.
- Finally, plan a celebration with your friends to celebrate getting through the holidays! Host a potluck dinner, go to the movies, or simply schedule time to hang out and swap holiday stories. Knowing that you have a joyful post-holiday celebration planned can make the holidays easier to manage.
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