Although I love the holiday season and LOVE spending quality time with my family, not everyone does. I understand that the holidays can be tough for anyone, whether it's because of strained relationships or lack thereof. Here are some ways that you can best maneuver the many stressors that can come up when being around family during the holiday season.
1. Evaluate your triggers
What are the interactions, statements, questions or behaviors that tend to ignite an adverse emotional response within you? Is it when your great-aunt asks you for the 50th time when you're getting married? Is it when your drunk father-in-law won't stop hanging all over you? Or when your mother asks if you're sure about wearing that outfit?
What are your triggers and what are they setting off in you? Pride, embarrassment, shame? Take some time before heading into holiday gatherings assessing what your triggers are. Then, think of ways to effectively respond. Practice those responses.
For example, to great-aunt Gertrude, an effective response may be "Thank you for your continued interest, but right now I am actually really excited about my career." Change the conversation and move on.
2. Know your limits and set your boundaries
If you know you start to feel drained or irritated only an hour in to spending time at Thanksgiving dinner, then only spend one hour at Thanksgiving dinner. There is no reason you need to spend more time there than you want to. Create a boundary for yourself. There is no need to over-explain to anyone why you may only be spending a certain amount of time at the holiday party. Show up, be present, be kind and then take care of yourself.
3. Stay out of emotionally-charged conversations
It can be helpful to not discuss any intense topics during family gatherings. It is not the time or place to gossip about your cousin's divorce or your uncle's alcoholism. It is not the time to bring up to your brother-in-law the time he pissed you off at your engagement party. It is also not the time to get into an argument about politics or the state of our nation.
Engage in quality conversation. Regardless of how anyone acts towards you, try to put out kindness and compassion to all. This will help you feel better, as well as move on from the blame or contempt you may be holding on towards others. Furthermore, any amends or grievances that you believe need to be addressed with a loved on can be addressed at a different time in a more private setting.
4. Take a break
Go into the nearest restroom or bedroom and sit with yourself. Breathe deeply and slowly in and out, recognizing the emotion you are experiencing, and breathing until it passes. Allow the emotion to pass through so you don't stuff it down for it to just come out again later.
Use the reframe: "I am not my thoughts. My thoughts are not facts. I acknowledge what I am feeling and do not judge it. I am allowing this feeling to pass through. I am okay."
Meditating for a short time prior to entering a family gathering can also be helpful. Create space between your thoughts and give yourself some time to experience peace and calm so that you are better able to cope later.
5. Practice acceptance
Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you choose to look at it more positively), we cannot change other people. You will never be able to change great-aunt Gertrude and her incessant, intrusive questioning. BUT, you CAN choose new reactions and behaviors for yourself today.
If you find yourself sitting around the dinner table, becoming more irritated by the minute, say to yourself: "I accept [insert family member here] for exactly as you are, for who you are, and I cannot and will not try to change you."
Letting go of the need to control or change your family members will help YOU. Be open to letting go of the control you have allowed them to have over your emotions. Refer to my post about the importance of forgiving our parents -- and you can apply it to any loved one.
Enjoy your family time. Enjoy this time of giving. Take care of yourself.