As the holidays approach, many people feel joy, others feel dread, and some feel a solid mix of the two. For many of us, holidays are a time to celebrate our families, spend time with our friends, and indulge in delicious food. In this post, we’ll focus on the first of those – family. By the time January rolls around, many people feel like they can’t spend another second with their family and swear off spending another holiday with them again next year. Is this you? If so, read ahead for some helpful hints for managing some of those stressful family interactions.
Maybe it’s an aunt who asks too many personal questions, a mother-in-law who questions your parenting skills, a sibling who still tries to get your parents to like them more, children who can’t seem to remember their manners anymore, or a partner who forgot once again to buy the one thing you asked them to buy before Thanksgiving dinner. Whatever the stressor is, what’s important is that you manage your reaction to it.
- Breathe. Take some long, deep breaths. I like to teach people how to do diaphragmatic breathing. This slow, deliberate breathing can not only keep you from saying you may regret, but it can also help your whole body calm down.
- Count silently in your head. Parents of young kids probably know Daniel Tiger. If so, you know the song lyrics – “When you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath. And count to four!”* While I am not suggesting you watch Daniel Tiger, his advice is good. Taking a deep breath and counting to four (or even ten) can help you calm down and give you a minute to gather your thoughts so you respond calmer and/or kinder than you may have if you responded right away.
- Find something neutral or positive that you and your family member agree on. Maybe your aunt and uncle hold strong political views different than your own. That’s okay but the holidays are not a great time to discuss differing political views. Instead, find something you all agree upon and talk about that. Maybe your aunt and uncle also love your mother’s sweet potato pie, or maybe they recently saw a great movie and want to talk about it.
- Know when to walk away. Sometimes counting and breathing and talking about the latest movies just don’t work. If you feel yourself getting angry or stressed out and can’t make it stop, excuse yourself from the conversation and walk away. Go find someone who needs help in the kitchen or a relative who could use a drink refill and excuse yourself to go do something else.
These are just some small steps you can take to help manage some of the family-related stress that pops up this time of year. If you feel like the stress you’re experiencing is more than usual, is harder to control, or is impacting your daily life, consider going to therapy to learn additional tools to use. Schedule a free phone consultation with me to learn more.
*For those of you curious about the Daniel Tiger song…