You know how it is. Year after year the holidays roll around and the entire family gathers together to eat, catch up, exchange gifts, and eat some more. It may be the only time of the year when everyone is under one roof and while you may be excited to spend time with those you love, there is no denying that family holidays always include a certain degree of stress and tension. This is because no matter how much you love your parents, siblings, aunts, and uncles, you each have your own life, routine, and way of doing things. When you get together those differences may clash and create all sorts of family friction. To make it worse, there may be unhappy memories and toxic relationships that impact the way you treat those you love.
Before you pack your bags and head to your hometown, prepare yourself for what lies ahead so that you can walk in the front door with a calm, positive outlook devoid of unrealistic expectations.
Recognize the stress of the season
The holidays may seem warm, fuzzy, and magical on the surface, but there is a lot of stress and pressure under all the hoopla. Remember that you and everyone in your family has been stressing over finances, trying to find thoughtful gifts, planning meals, and attending multiple holiday parties, all while trying to maintain a normal life. This leads to exhaustion and stress. Keep this in mind as you head home for the holidays so you can cut yourself, and your loved ones some slack.
Adjust your expectations
You may have a vision of everyone laughing over a holiday ham and playing charades after dinner, but the reality of a holiday with your family may be much different. Creating high expectations of what a holiday at home will look like will only leave you disappointed and angry at those you love. While you may have an idea of how your family should or shouldn’t act over the holidays or have big plans to connect with those you love, putting pressure on yourself and others will only lead to disappointment. Let go of unrealistic expectations and prepare yourself for the reality of your family (including the bad).
Make a game plan
Take a moment to visualize all the things that may upset you or make you angry. Maybe you’re family gets political or gets judgmental of your job or lifestyle. Whatever the triggers are, recognize each of them and make a plan on how you will handle them with grace. Think about the people you struggle with the most and come up with a game plan for dealing with them. Remember how you’ve dealt with things in the past and make a realistic plan to avoid handling them poorly this year. That may mean you excuse yourself to take deep breaths in the bathroom, change the subject naturally, or joke it off.
Take some personal time
You may feel like you need to cram family time into every second that you’re home, but resist the impulse to go over board. You and those you love need private time and personal space. If you’re a runner, don’t suspend your morning jog over the holidays. Use the time to give yourself space from family, reduce stress hormones, and improve your mood. If running isn’t your thing, take an hour to read, go for a walk, or do something that relaxing. Not only will you be present and more energized in your interactions with your family, but they’ll appreciate taking some down time too.
Go easy on the booze
You may want to drink to loosen up and release tension, but keep your drinking to a minimum. Drinking may make you feel more comfortable socially, but it also lowers your inhibitions and reduces your ability to be aware and mindful of how you handle situations and treat others. Your plans to stay calm and kind to get over your own issues will go out the window after one too many glasses of spiked eggnog.
Remember, they’re family
You may have decided your dad’s role in life is to make you feel like a failure or that your Aunt Elizabeth spends her days trying to annoy you, but remember that they’re your family. Tensions arise easily in families because they may be some of the only people who accept and love you as you are. They’ll be the ones backing you up after a heart-crushing break up or a drastic change in career. Accept their flaws and remember that at the root of everything is their love for you and that irreplaceable bond you share.