It’s (already!) that time of year again. Instead of warmth, excitement, and joy, does the holiday season bring you a sense of, well, dread? Do you find yourself feeling overly stressed or depressed at a time when you want to feel happy and grateful?
You’re not alone. From financial woes to scrambling around purchasing gifts to dealing with travel plans, many of us jam-pack our holiday seasons with hectic schedules and unrealistic demands.
At the core of it, we want the perfect occasion; we want to impress our loved ones, and we want to feel warmth and connection. But if you have a difficult family dynamic, the compounded stress can make any celebration feel like an utter nightmare.
Surviving the holidays doesn’t need to be a mystery. With the right tips in mind, you can find balance and joy during this time of year- regardless of your family circumstances. Let’s get into what you need to know.
Accept People For Who They Are
Many of us feel frustrated, disappointed, or angry at our loved ones over certain personality or value clashes. That’s normal. Despite what the beautiful Hallmark movies want us to believe, most families tend to have some disarray.
But now is not the time to expect people to change. If Aunt Margaret always overcooks the turkey, this year probably won’t be any different. If Grandpa Jim tends to bring up politics with Uncle Bob, you should anticipate a heated discussion well in advance.
Be prepared to accept people for who they are. Everyone has their quirks and individual differences. Their job isn’t to change for what best suits you!
Accepting people doesn’t necessarily mean liking or condoning inappropriate behavior. If inappropriate behavior is in question, you may need to consider implementing new boundaries for such gatherings.
Identify The Boundaries You Need To Set
When you accept people for who they are, you surrender the expectations for how people should behave or react in certain situations.
However, in toxic family systems, acceptance may not be enough to promote a safe and healthy environment. Examples of situations where you need to set boundaries include:
Substance use (a family member continues to drink or use in excess)
If the celebration is happening in your house, make it clear that you will not tolerate such behavior. Let the person in question know your expectations well in advance. Be clear and concise. You don’t want them “guessing” how you feel. Let them know the consequences if they choose to disregard your boundaries.
If the event is happening at someone else’s house, you will need to consider your own personal boundaries. It may mean pulling the person aside and letting them know how this behavior affects you. If the problem persists during the event, you may decide that you want to leave altogether.
Set Limits For Yourself
Here is your friendly reminder that you are under no obligation to spend a designated amount of time on anything or anyone. If your family is a persistent stressor for you, plan ahead for such scheduling needs.
If you are traveling out of town, you may consider staying in a hotel rather than staying at the family member’s house. You may want to consider breaking your day among several events - rather than showing up for one event for an unplanned amount of time.
Your loved ones may have reactions to these limits. They may try and “guilt-trip” you into staying longer. Unfortunately, the more you give into these demands, the more likely you are to experience frustration towards yourself and resentment towards them.
Finally, you should always have an exit strategy to fall back on in dire situations. If you are married, share this strategy with your spouse. You want to know that you have a plan-of-action in case things start becoming overly toxic or unbearable.
Create Your Own Traditions
Although it may seem like a foreign concept (especially if your family prides itself on long-standing traditions), you are allowed to pave your own path. You are allowed to turn down holiday invitations. You are allowed to set your own traditions.
Sometimes, even despite your best efforts, family gatherings just aren’t healthy. If you’re overly stressed, panicked, and depressed before and after such events, it may be time to take an honest inventory of your intentions.
Do you really want to feel beholden spending your time with people who make you feel so poorly about yourself? Even if you feel a sense of gratitude for your family, are these gatherings worth the emotional stress?
Final Thoughts On Surviving The Holidays
Despite stereotypical images of family closeness, crackling fires, and happy laughter after plates of delicious food, the holidays aren’t always a time of joy. From generation to generation, family dynamics run deep. Dysfunctional relationships can trigger painful emotions that can persist for several weeks or months after the celebration is long over.
Surviving the holidays shouldn’t feel like an impossible task. If you’re feeling overwhelmed this time of year, talking it out may be helpful. I’m here to support you (and help you create a plan of attack if needed!).