Managing stress during family get-togethers

Managing stress during family get-togethers

Family get-togethers over the holidays can be stressful. All of those old childhood wounds can get reopened, and, in some families, new issues are created. Even in families that appear to get along, unvoiced resentments from the past can linger behind a mask of normalcy.

We have a few simple tips to help you relax and enjoy your family this holiday season:

Prepare a "self-care" plan
Decide how long you want to interact with difficult family members and determine your boundaries. One boundary might be for you to stay at a hotel instead of in your family member’s home so that you can have some downtime. Another might be for you to determine what topics you want to avoid.

Practice answers to triggers
You can bet that topics you hope won’t come up, in fact, will. If your cousin is still angry that you inherited your grandmother’s antique pitcher, think ahead about how you will handle it. One way is to “redirect,” which is simply the strategy of changing the topic of conversation. You can also tell your cousin you don’t wish to discuss the issue at this time and then change the subject.

Let go of resentments
Decide what grievances you’ll let go of for the day. Sometimes, being around family requires us to forget about past issues and simply enjoy everyone despite them. It may be worth it to not avoid your brother-in-law, whom you don’t like, if you don’t get much time during the year to enjoy your little nieces and nephews.

Save the big issues for another time. If you need to confront your Aunt Suzy about something that hurt you, address it after the holiday get-together. Remember the holidays are supposed to be about love and peace. You can put the war off for another day.

Practice mindfulness
The reality is, we only have right now. Not dwelling on the past and not worrying about the future can make your holiday celebrations a success. It can also make you a happier person in general. Focus on your needs and what is happening at this very moment and enjoy it.

Have a lifeline
Make plans ahead of time to connect with a friend during the festivities to support each other. Hearing a friendly voice can help you sort out your feelings when you are “triggered.” And processing stress with a friend usually leads to a few therapeutic laughs.

You're not the only one
Remember, others are hurting too. You aren’t the only one feeling stress or getting triggered. It’s a part of many families’ dynamics. Be thoughtful if another family member gets upset or doesn’t live up to your expectations. Keep perspective. You just might find a little humor in some of the less serious gripes that seem to linger over the years.

Set your sites on what you enjoy
Have something to look forward to. After your family celebration, schedule a get-together with friends or part of the family that brings you joy. Knowing that this event is coming up can give you that extra bump to get through time with some of the more difficult personalities.

Family get-togethers are often a mixed bag of emotions. But learning to enjoy family members for whom they are while setting boundaries can make these celebrations some of your favorite times of the year.

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