The holidays can be one of the most emotionally trying times of the year, especially if your family dynamics are complicated. In fact, Ram Dass says that the best way to test how together you are is to spend time with your family, and indeed the holidays can present pretty intense strain on your sanity. In addition, if you are going through any negative personal issues that your family might pester you about, then that can make the whole situation that much worse.
If you’re looking for coping strategies for those trying family get-togethers, here are a few tips!
- Accept things the way they are. You are never going to be in full control of the situation anyway, and trying to force people and things to be how you want them to be will only cause anxiety for everyone involved. Instead, try setting aside your reservations about the way things are, and just accept them as-is. You’d be surprised how quickly this one attitude shift can change your outlook for the better.
- Look at situations from other perspectives. Life is a complicated thing, and we each have our own ways of dealing with it. Your brother’s lifestyle choices or your aunt’s behavior when she’s had a couple of glasses of wine may frustrate and embarrass you when you look at it from your own rigid context, but if you can force yourself to step outside your own point of view and look at things in a more flexible way, the less you will feel like judging others. Once you realize that we are all humans who make choices and live with our imperfections, it makes it that much easier to forgive both the little and the big issues you have with others (and with yourself!).
- Get through the hardest times with a minimum of drama. Sometimes there are certain family gatherings where there is anger or bitterness involved, and you think you’d rather have a root canal than spend time with these people. At those times of high tension it can be easy to say or do something that you will regret later. No matter how much you know you’re in the right, let it go at least for now, and let everyone get through the gathering in one piece. Why is maintaining a truce your responsibility? Because you are not that person who always makes things worse; you are the one who makes things better. If you don’t think you can be that person in a particular situation, then maybe it’s better just to skip it altogether, rather than causing a scene.
- Rehearse your lines if necessary. Sometimes the key to not saying the wrong things, is practicing the right things to say. If gems like “congratulations on getting that pole dancing job” or “yes, having your wedding at an amusement park should be entertaining” don’t come out of your mouth naturally, then practice these phrases over and over until you can say them convincingly. You know your family members will ask those embarrassing questions or bring up situations that they may be incredibly excited about. if you find their stories appalling, then you need to plan your reactions ahead of time. This is especially true if you anticipate questions or comments that might upset you – for example if you’ve had a recent break-up, or have gained some weight since the last time people saw you. Be ready for whatever they might say, with a calm and rehearsed response.
- Temper your expectations. Sometimes the reality of a situation is just too much to accept cold turkey, but you can take it in baby steps, a little at a time. Try to cut people some slack and be open to the possibility that something good might come of it. A great technique is to do something to help someone who is worse off than you are. This can foster the spirit of gratitude and help you open your heart, which in turn can help you accept more of what is going on around you.
So really, there is no reason to dread the holidays in particular – think of it as an opportunity to break free of habitual thinking, as you find new ways to face situations where you are faced with painful memories.