In Hallmark movies, the holidays are depicted as a time of peace, joy, and reconnection. In reality, however, the holidays can often be a time of chaos and stress, trying to accommodate and manage everyone’s needs and seemingly running on empty in order to do so.
Often emotions can run high during the holidays, especially if not all family members see eye to eye, or when gathering together for holiday events serves to remind you of the loss of loved ones, or other family issues that you have otherwise tried to forget. Worries about the financial pressures of the season, whether because of traveling to see family or buying gifts, can also lead to feelings of overwhelm, not to mention feeling out of sorts as you are ripped from the schedules and routines that you rely on to keep your life in order.
For many, the stress associated with the holiday season can become an excuse to make unhealthy choices, fall back into old behavioral patterns, or pick up a drink to try and cope with the stress. How can you avoid a repeat play of what happened last year and the year before? The scene may be set, and the progress is in motion, but what would happen if you refused to play your part?
1. Take Stock of Your Feelings and Beliefs
As always, awareness is the first step towards healing. Ask yourself, what made your holidays successful that one year? Or can you isolate what was the trigger that set off the family explosive? Because we cannot control how others act and respond, focus instead on your own experience. What was your role in the conflict, and how can you do things differently this year?
What emotion rises up in you when you return to the scene of your family home? Are you overwhelmed with the reminder of what it’s like to feel small, helpless, or starved for attention? How can you better prepare yourself to handle your little brother’s annoying new girlfriend, or that frustrating thing your parents do when they imply that you’re not successful enough and require their constant guidance and direction?
Too often we continue taking on stress, little by little, denying it even to ourselves, until it is too late, we explode, and there’s no turning back. Difficulties like this happen because we are not doing a good job to checking in with ourselves, and taking the steps required in regulating our internal state before we allow it to explode on someone else. Don’t continue to fall prey to these corrosive family patterns. You may want to check in with a therapist, or at the very least a trusted friend who can help you to sort through what you might be feeling.
2. Be Clear about Your Boundaries
Use your self-awareness to fuel your understanding of what you are and are not willing to put up with from others, and game plan how you want to approach them yourself. Remind yourself that it’s okay to take time for you, and that you are worthy of establishing and defending your boundaries and limits. You may want to practice saying out loud the promises you made to yourself about how you will not slink back into old family patterns, and arm yourself with an “I’m uncomfortable with this”, or the stronger, “you may not speak to me like that” for when triggering situations occur. Often it feels like the only tool that we have is our presence to communicate what we need to about what we’re willing to accept from family members and friends, but we may just find that there is healing when we decide to open our mouths to deliver the message with respect and confidence.
3. Control Your Impulses
The success of the holidays of course rests on your ability to effectively control your impulses in a number of ways. This means not only not escalating any sort of family argument, but also in ensuring that you are taking care of yourself in ways that set yourself up for success. Taking care of your physical self will go a long way in helping you to control your emotional reactivity, which in turn will help lead to greater emotional health.
Do not feel guilty for taking breaks, whether from a heated conversation, or when just playing witness to the family drama unfolding. Finding ways to schedule time for self-care throughout the holiday season. Remember the routines that you established throughout the year are helpful for a reason, as continuing to engage in regular workouts, avoiding excessive alcohol or the temptation to binge on carbs and sweets can help you to have a positive emotional frame with which to approach your family. This, in addition to maintaining a normal sleep schedule can mean the difference between your participation in mass family conflict, and a successful holiday season.
The holidays often bring up many feelings and emotions, and can also be known as a time for family conflict and strife. It may be a good idea to get connected with a therapist you trust to be able to sort through these dynamics, and to help hold you accountable for the changes you need to make, in this holiday season, and the new year ahead. Use our convenient online scheduling platform to make an appointment today!