This time of year brings families together for gift-giving and elaborate meals and festive celebrating. If your family is like most others, those large gatherings coupled with the stress of winter weather and gift-buying often lead to family tension. But there is no need for the joy of this season to be drowned out by family conflict and squabbling. Keep in mind our five tips for dealing with family stress during the holidays, and your holiday season will be so much more festive and enjoyable!
Photo credit: Kate Brady
Choose your conversation. If you know that Uncle Steve likes to argue about politics or Auntie Jane always pesters you about your career or romantic interests (or lack thereof) or your appearance, turn the conversation back on them. Ask them about their jobs and how it’s going. Talk to your aunt about her favorite hobby or ask about the gorgeous new sweater she’s wearing. Get your uncle engaged in a conversation that doesn’t involve debate greater than who is a better quarterback. By turning the conversation to them, you take the pressure off yourself and avoid uncomfortable discussions. People love to talk about themselves, so find a way to get them doing so. The ol' tactic of dodge and evade works great here.
Breathe. Breath deeply. When you are about to spit out a terse response to your cousin’s intentional needling, take a moment to step back, breathe, and smile. Your family knows better than anyone how to get a rise out of you, and, sadly, they can do it intentionally just to see you react. And sometimes people just don’t realize that their words can have such a strong impact on those around them. Keep this in mind as you react to those around you during the holidays. Sometimes biting your tongue for the sake of familial peace (and your own sanity!) is a small price to pay. Remembering all of the good times you've had with some of your less-than-easy-to-deal-with relatives can also help you work through your frustrations. It's hard to be irritated with someone when you are laughing about the time you ended up in a snow bank while sledding when you were kids.
Have an exit plan. Before you arrive at a family event that has historically been stressful, devise a plan to make an easy exit from uncomfortable interactions. It can be as simple as, “Let me run to the restroom for a moment” or “Oh! Are those Grandma’s famous cookies? I haven't had one in years!” Having a ready-to-use excuse to escape can save you frustration and anxiety later. For help with your exit plan, see our next tip.
Drink water. Lots of water. Alcohol is often a staple at holiday gatherings, and we all know that cocktails and beers work dark magic on our inhibitions. After a few drinks, you find yourself saying things that you’d never say sober. To avoid saying something you’ll regret or something that will lead to interactions you’d prefer not to have, stick to water and other non-alcoholic options. You’ll keep a tighter rein on your tongue and will be happier in the long term. As an added bonus, the increased water consumption can also work as your escape plan because we all know that lot o' water equals frequents bathroom breaks!
Remember. It’s not about you. While many stressful interactions during this time of year feel like a personal attack, it's most likely that they aren’t. When you’re criticized for something by a loved one, it is generally a projection of their own feelings about themselves. When you’re teased relentlessly for being too tall, it’s generally coming from a person who envies your height. When someone comments on your voracious appetite, that person likely wishes they could eat the way you do without the consequences. It’s not about you. It’s about them. Keep this in mind, and you’ll gain new perspective and (hopefully) patience.
The holiday should be a time filled with joy and laughter, and only you can control how you react to stressful situations. Keep these five tips in mind to keep your reactions in check, and you’ll find that your holiday is brighter and lighter.