7 Tips to Help Keep Your Sanity with Family Over the Holidays
Warm, fuzzy feelings of nostalgia and excitement typically come up as we plan for the holidays. Sometimes, feelings of dread and anxiety can also come up, especially if there are difficult family members in the mix. Every family is different, and although we cannot control how others act, as adults we usually have control over how we conduct ourselves. Here are a few ways to best prepare yourself for get-togethers over the holidays:
- 1. Remember that the get-together is temporary: Mindfulness and reframing our thoughts is important as we feel past, uncomfortable sensations come up. Reminding ourselves that being in the presence of some complicated family members has a time limit, can help us stay in control of our reactions. Using emotional regulation skills can help in maintaining mindfulness.
- 2. Know your own personal limitations: Do you get easily overwhelmed by too much noise? Maybe you know you cry easily when a certain type of criticism comes up at the dinner table. Perhaps you know you have the tendency to argue if someone offends you, even unintentionally. We all have personal limitations when it comes to our interactions at family get-togethers. Knowing these limitations ahead of time not only helps you acknowledge your own role in holiday dysfunction, but it can help you monitor at what point you need to take a break or walk away from a situation gracefully.
- 3. Have an escape plan: Talking about walking away gracefully, having an escape plan can help you to be proactive rather than reactive. Perhaps you can bring a book or other device to watch a movie and state to others that you will walk away and “recharge”. For all they know, you have had a tiring week and just need some time to yourself. Maybe you can volunteer to run to the grocery store for last minute supplies, or volunteer to play with kids at the get-together. Usually these types of activities can keep your mind and body active, and also distracted from any difficult conversation. The key is to walk away gracefully and in a neutral way in order to avoid more criticism or questions from others. Typically, avoidance is not suggested as a long-term solution, but it works just fine as a short-term solution over the holidays.
- 4. Have an accountability partner: If you have at least one friend or family member at a reunion that you trust with your feelings, you can talk to them ahead of time. Having a game plan with someone can help to remind you to stay mindful, and find productive distractions. They can help to divert conversation away from tough topics. They may also be able to help you process issues that are happening in real-time, which can help you actually enjoy the moment more.
- 5. Ask more questions: Are you stuck sitting next to a family member who loves to gossip? Turn the tables on them calmly and ask them questions about themselves. Listen to them talk. Keep asking questions. This will redirect the attention from you over to them. This can also buy you time until you are ready to excuse yourself in an inconspicuous manner.
- 6. Take care of yourself: Try to stick to your routine as much as possible. If you enjoy morning jogs, keep doing that even during the holidays. If you know you become more emotional when you drink, then you may need to cut back on drinking at the dinner table when there are volatile visitors present. If you know you need as much sleep as possible to function well, then excuse yourself early from activities in order to sleep well. Keeping your body stable and regulated can make a big difference when encountering sticky situations.
- 7. Remember that your family members are human too: Some people have not had the privilege of going to therapy and getting to know their strengths and weaknesses. Some loved ones simply lack self-awareness and are not able to comprehend how their words and actions impact others. Most of the time, people are not trying to directly offend or criticize, so we also need to offer them the same grace we would expect for ourselves.
However, there is an exception to this point. If a family member is knowingly physically, emotionally, or sexually abusive towards you or others, then the situation is considered dangerous. Once abuse enters the picture, it is essential to look out for your own and others’ well being. It may also require reconsidering if you will be present at the next get-together. Boundaries are tough to put up sometimes, but can be absolutely essential when dealing with abusive behaviors.
We hope this cheat sheet can help provide some guidance during the holidays! Holiday get-togethers are not always easy, but you certainly have some control over how you perceive things during and after the festivities.