How to Cope with Family Stress During the Holidays

Christmas mood

Ah family—coming home to the warmth, love and support of the people we share the strongest bond with.

Seeing family on special occasions is a source of joy and comfort. But let’s face it; such gatherings can create overwhelming stress and anxiety. Who knows how to push our buttons and trigger the same emotional responses better than family?

Here we are approaching a new holiday season wavering between excitement and apprehension. The desire is to celebrate the holidays and create new memories with the people who matter to us the most without negativity.

Let’s make it a different experience this year—more peaceful and memorable (in a good way). Consider the following.

Greet your family with an open heart.

An open light heart is your gateway to connecting with your family. Make a conscious decision to look at everyone with love and understanding, instead of caution and judgment.

Look for the truth. Look beyond appearances. Everyone is doing the best they can given their abilities and circumstances. Give people the benefit of the doubt.

We all have our own pain and expectations. If someone says something unsupportive, it is a reflection of their own state of mind (or heart), not yours.

Empathize. We all have been through encounters when someone says something and we retreat into our own world, questioning how they can do this to us.

Instead of falling into old reactive patterns, remind yourself that you’re not this person and you don’t know what’s going on in their lives. How would it feel to be in their shoes? Try to see the world through their eyes. Consider other meanings for what was said that are not negative.

Accept what is. The best thing you can do for yourself and others is to understand the dynamics of your family and accept that they may not change.

It’s easy to have an idealized version of what a holiday experience with family should be like. However, as we all know, life is never ideal but always perfect in its challenges and imperfections.

Having realistic expectations—or no expectations at all, is a wonderful way to open up and trust that you’ll have the best experience possible.

Be in the moment and love your ego.

If you go with the conscious intent to have a fun time with family, focus on that and be with it.

Be in the moment.  Look at your family members. Focus on what you like about them. For one thing, they’re here with you. If you can’t find anything you like, you’re not really looking.

How’s the food by the way? What do you enjoy about the holidays?

Become aware of the mental chatter. Your mind will try to go into all sorts of places instead of the here and now. The moment an unhappy memory creeps up, or an old emotion is triggered, gently bring your attention back to this moment.

Comfort your ego. Yes. The ego plays a big role in the way we perceive and interact with others. It usually runs the show and we feed it without even blinking. The best way to take control away is not by ignoring your ego, but by giving it attention and love.

Your ego is your protector and motivator. Thank it for its vital role and tell it that you’ll take care of it when you’re at an event. This creates a separation between you and your ego and puts you in the driver seat.

If someone says something that may bruise your ego, pause and tell your ego: I got this; I will deal with it and protect you.

Breathe. Take a couple of deep breaths and see if you need to say anything or not.

If you feel there is something that you can say that is nonreactive and not negative, go ahead and say it. If not, choose silence—it can be the most profound response. If you choose the latter, acknowledge your ego and tell it that this is the best way to take care of it at this moment.

Take responsibility.

Take control of your own feelings and wellbeing. Don’t allow outside influences to dictate how you feel or behave.

Looking at the bigger picture, everything in your life is a projection of your own view of the world. Instead of wishing others could change, focus on your part in creating the situation.

You can see things differently. Within any challenge, there is an opportunity waiting for us to uncover it. Look for other, more positive, ways to interpret a situation. You never know. Your family might surprise you.

You always have a choice. If you can’t find one good reason to get together with family or anyone else for that matter, you have the right to decline the invitation.

You’re better off saying no to a gathering, if that’s what you truly desire, than doing it out of a sense of guilt or obligation.

The same applies if you want to leave. Don’t feel obligated to put up with a toxic environment. Politely excuse yourself and leave.

It’s better to leave in peace than to stay and feel miserable. You will do yourself and everyone else a favor. Others won’t enjoy your company any way.

Bring gratitude with you. Count your blessings—the noise, warmth, talks and arguments, accidents and unwanted gifts.

Having a family, with all its dysfunction, is a gift. Cherish it and remember this too shall pass—good or not so good.

If you can find sincere gratitude for your family and the precious moments you share together, the negativity and stress will dissipate and joy will take its place.

The best gift you can give yourself and your family is a stress free holiday.

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