Holidays + Family = Stress (But Don’t Let It)
There’s a hilarious scene from the movie Home for the Holidays where the family gathers for Thanksgiving dinner, but when Robert Downey, Jr.’s character attempts to carve the turkey, it slips from his grip and lands in the lap of his sister, ruining her dress. While some of the family erupts in laughter, the sister and her children have a dramatic reaction ultimately storming out of the house.
Regardless of the way you feel about spending time with relatives during the holidays, we’ve all had those moments when you’re convinced you belong to the most dysfunctional family this side of the Mississippi. I believe the majority of people genuinely love their family and enjoy their company, but I think there’s something unique about family gatherings during the holiday season that can bring out the worst in us.
For one, the holidays tend to draw out relatives that you may not see at other times of the year. Many people save their vacation days and flier miles to travel during the holidays, so that aunt or uncle that lives up east likely only surfaces for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Visiting relatives that you rarely see should always be a positive. You only see them during special occasions, so it’s a chance to catch up and enjoy the small doses of that long distance relationship. However, sometimes there’s a good reason you only see them a few times a year and the quality time during the holidays can be just the reminder you need of why you don’t live in close proximity to one another.
The holidays also are notorious for increased levels of anxiety. People are busier during November and December juggling work, shopping trips, party planning and a host of seasonal events that can spread you a little thin. Throw in the added pressure of meeting your family’s expectations, and it’s no wonder the American Psychological Association reports that nearly 25 percent of Americans feel “extreme stress” during the season.
Here are some tips from an article in Psychology Today to help keep the peace (and to help keep your stress levels at a minimum):
Remind yourself that it’s not about you.
Being around family can cause you to revert back to your childhood ways. For example, if you’re the youngest in the family, it might come naturally for you to act like the “baby” because that’s been your role. But no one wants to behave like a child. From the article:
“You’re not alone in feeling this way, according to social science research.
The trick is to not judge yourself too harshly for reverting to childhood behaviors, and to not let the way your family treats you get too far under your skin. Remind yourself that the way you interact with your family doesn’t reflect on who you are as an adult.”
If a loved one says something that offends or insults you, don’t let it get the best of you. Instead, stay calm and remove yourself from the situation.
“A holiday dinner probably isn’t the time to tell the family member that what they said was hurtful, but trying to swallow your anger isn’t likely to make you feel much better either. So, after you’ve taken those calming breaths or that walk, write down what it is that they said, and how it made you feel, then put it in your pocket and save it for a later conversation.”
Escape when you can.
Sometimes taking a mini-break from the overload of family time can be just the breather you need. If you go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas and are going to be spending a few days or even a week at your childhood home, connect with an old friend and make plans to getaway for a few hours.
Plan responses in advance.
If you’re dreading personal questions such as, “when are you getting married?” or “are you ever going to have any children?” plan the perfect comeback ahead of time. But remember, don’t be defensive or combative with your answers. Instead, remain respectful and try to understand your relative likely doesn’t mean any harm with their prying questions.
As you enter the threshold of the holidays, keep the above tips in mind. You can’t choose your family but you can choose how to interact with them and how to respond under tense situations.