Last year, the holidays were celebrated differently by many. Now we are going back to a new normal, December is the month of spending time with family and friends. Christmas and New Year's are meant to be pleasant and joyful, but often, people experience them as stressful and hectic. For example, the host responsible for the preparations is stressed, as is the family member who has to travel across the continent to attend the festivities. And sometimes, family can be challenging. This article will discuss opportunities to turn this around and provide tools to make the holidays less stressful.
It is essential to consider what friends or family members need, in addition to your own needs. But what if the wish to avoid Christmas dinner is more complex. Perhaps the complexity arrises because of bad relationship with certain relatives. It makes sense not to want to feel like walking on eggshells during the holidays in these instances.
Many people experience the time around the holidays as stressful. The necessary organization and preparation added to our daily responsibilities can be challenging. Working year-round compounded with the stressors of this past year alone makes you look forward to a lovely few days off, if that is even possible, but instead, you need to prepare presents and host the family. Or you have to travel the continent to attend a holiday-related obligation. Not everyone likes organizing or attending these events. Some value what others think and may worry whether what they do is good enough. In short, the holiday season is the ultimate test for people with challenging families.
Family relationships are complex. During childhood, everyone has a particular place and role in the family. Sometimes these relationships and roles can lead to resentment or irritation. The holidays might feel like a chore, even if you care very much about your family.
Switch It Up
What can you do about decreasing the stress and increasing the fun? First of all, try to focus on the positive sides of the holidays. If you are lucky, you do not have to go to work, and this is a time to spend quality time together. Stop expecting others to change but try to accept them as they are. Secondly, this is an excellent opportunity to change things up yourself.
1. Break Patterns
Many people assume how the holidays are supposed to be celebrated. However, it might be the case that more people would like to do things differently. Suggest going for a walk or organizing a game to add some variety to the time together. Taking a walk with others before or after a shared meal is good, not only for your appitite or for digestion but for bonding. In a different and active setting, quite naturally, a variety of topics will arise. A walk is more dynamic and helps set a more relaxed mood than sitting at a table. During a walk, it is easier to switch up the interpersonal dynamic.
2. Be Constructive
Say what is bothering you but do so constructively. For example, if a family member often complains, try not to take it personally. Instead of addressing the fact that they are whining, try to see their perspective and understand why. Maybe they are worried or not in the best place themselves. Indicate that you understand where they are coming from, yet explain how their comments affect you. Keep it among yourselves and try to keep your emotions in check.
Tip: Responding with humor is always a tactical solution.
This might sound easier said than done. What if they get angry over the well-intentioned feedback? Acknowledge that you see that they are upset, and emphasize the common interest in maintaining the relationship. Stay as calm as possible, but explain why you want to discuss this topic. Family ties are important, so invest in them.
3. Set Boundaries
However, discussions like these can go too far. For example, someone does not want to listen or accept your point of view, or you feel invalidated. This might cause you to say, “Stop!” and set boundaries. Express what is bothering you, such as indicating that the conversation is not appreciated or that you feel uncomfortable in the conversation and/or the relationship. Completely cutting off connections is not something to strive for. If you notice that you are avoiding contact with family or friends, think about why that is and address it. However, do not wait to address it until the holidays; it would likely make the time together more stressful.
4. Lower the Bar
Being the host during the holidays can be a recipe for quite a bit of stress. As a host, specific tasks are assumed, such as decorating the table and preparing dinner while providing everyone with drinks. Lower the bar! When the host feels stressed, it can strongly impact the atmosphere, and you do not get to enjoy the time with your loved ones. Asking the guests to contribute to the party by giving them tasks makes them feel useful and strengthens the mutual bond.
In addition, realize that not everything revolves around consumption. People who love you do not only love you for the presents you buy. Research shows that experiences make us happier than things. Instead, playing board games, helping others with their tasks, or baking delicious Christmas cookies together will turn the time together into a pleasant memories and will get you in the Christmas spirit.
5. Focus on Positives
Make sure that you feel comfortable and relaxed. For example, by taking a walk before your guests arrive may help to cope better with irritations. Avoid thinking about your suffering; the more focus put on the annoyances, the slower time seems to pass. Instead, stay in the here and now and focus on the enjoyable parts like the delicious food and the fact that you can spend time together again after a year of isolation.
6. Make Memories (together)
Around the holidays, the emphasis is on being together. When you are single, this might cause feelings of loneliness or sadness. It is therefore not advisable to spend the holidays secluded from others. Instead, ask friends to come over with food and a guest of their choosing. That will undoubtedly make for a memorable evening.
No family nor situation is the same and every person responds differently to their family patterns. If questions arise about (ongoing) familial challenges, or if there is a desire to work on the relationships actively, it might be helpful to reach out to a family therapist or individual therapy. If it is difficult to deal with certain personality types during the holidays, this linked article from the May 2021 issue offers some tips for dealing with negative people.