Frustrated by your family members during the holidays? Family gatherings often don’t live up to the wholesome feel good stereotypes we see on TV. In spite of the stress that comes with the holidays, we can remain hopeful if we properly prepare ourselves. One big potential obstacle is toxic relatives. The traditions can be so meaningful but a few family members seem hellbent on wreaking havoc. It might involve drinking, passive-aggressive comments, or an insistence on talking politics.
4 Tips For Staying Sane During the Holidays
- Check Your Expectations
When you set unrealistic expectations, you set the stage for resentment. Yes, it’s the holiday season when folks are trying to deliver extra. But that’s where so much of the holiday stress comes from. In other words, when it comes to your family, it’s not productive to imagine they’ve changed since last year. Uncle Bob FootNMouth seven beers deep this year is likely to be a similar to uncle Bob seven beers deep this year. On the contrary, the high expectations of this time of year can bring the worst out of people!
Instead of expecting the family to hold hands and sing holiday songs, prepare yourself to feel good about your own behavior (see #3 below).
- Set, Enforce, and Respect Boundaries
Of course, the concept behind traditions relates to repeating them. But you can start a new cycle. Here are just a few of the boundaries you can set that can shift the playing field:
- Decline invitations to any event at which it’s reasonable to assume you will be triggered by rude or cruel comments — aimed at you or anyone.
- If you’re already at an event and a relative begins to stir the pot with inflammatory language, you can state that you will leave if they continue. Should that boundary not be honored by anyone, you are well within your rights to follow through on your promise of leaving.
- If you don’t want to overindulge on alcohol or food set limits in your mind ahead of time: number of drinks, alternate drinks with non-alcoholic beverages, limit yourself to one food serving or skip dessert for example.
- Sometimes, you may feel you’re being taken advantage of by relatives who impose a bunch of chores and responsibilities on you. In advance, volunteer for a few specific tasks you feel comfortable with and firmly decline any other request.
- Decide Where You’re Willing to Compromise
In other words, choose your battles wisely. It can be possible to avoid toxic relatives and let someone else try to educate them. Learning to let some situations go could be a shortcut to participating without conflict. Practice discernment here, of course, but give it a chance if it feels right.
- Commit to Self-Care
You cannot fully destress family gatherings unless you completely opt out (which involves its own version of stress). To cultivate balance, here are some self-care suggestions:
- Do not change your normal self-care rituals. Keep your regular sleep patterns on point, stay committed to the gym, and make healthy eating choices.
- This means you can say no to overeating, drinking alcohol, staying out late, etc.
- Schedule self-care plans, too, e.g. taking walks, getting a massage, and so on.
- Create a budget and stick to it.
Steps like this will fortify you when faced with a rude relative.
Traditions Can Evolve and Transform
If you see the same holiday events play out every year, you are not obligated to follow the script. You are certainly not the only one who dreads certain gatherings and certain people. Work together to create new ideas that emphasize the fun while reducing the chances of trouble.
Of course, if the holiday season is causing strong feelings of anxiety or depression, reach out to talk with me about anxiety therapy.
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Therapy for Men is a practice led by Dr. Rick Pomfret, offers counseling and psychotherapy services tailored to the needs of men. Their services encompass anxiety therapy, depression therapy, relationship therapy, men’s issues and support for those navigating life transitions or divorce. With offices in San Francisco and Corte Madera, Therapy4Men provides convenient access to mental health care for men in the Bay Area and online across California. If you’re frustrated by your family members during the holidays I would be happy to lend an ear and offer some solutions.