The holidays come with many traditions, some familial, some cultural – they can all be stressful. Some traditions are similar across families – carrying on how their religion or how their culture celebrates a particular holiday. Other traditions can come more from your family’s individual culture, and by that, I mean your family’s particular set of rules of engagement. One way to take care of yourself this holiday season is to reflect on how your family celebrates the holidays and relates to each other in general.
If anything in your family culture has ever troubled you, you may want to consider doing something different. Be the change you need to see; try something that is more in line with what you need. This may not necessarily match what your family’s expectations are, and that’s ok. Here are five ways to combat holiday stress:
WHEN: Sometimes a little can go a long way. Maybe you can have a different experience with your family if it is in a smaller dose. Whatever the tradition has been in the past is less important than what you need to do to feel better. Your family just may need to experience it to believe it: that quality can matter more than quantity. A shorter visit may mean that you are able to enjoy the time you are spending with your family as much as you can. Limiting the time together could reduce the opportunity for stress.
WHERE: How much space and downtime you can have from your family is also important to think about. Do you have to stay at their place? Can you stay in a hotel or Airbnb? Or with friends? Staying somewhere else allows you to feel like you can breathe if your family is not good at giving you space when you are at their place. You can have the choice of when to start seeing your family and when you are done for the night.
WHAT: Knowing that you have a Plan B (or C, D, E, etc.) can be a game changer in terms of how you feel about the holidays. Take the time to make backup plans of things you can do if you need a break. Consider both things you can do on your own and things you would like to do with certain family members or friends. You are allowed to do things that you want to do, even if it is the holidays.
HOW: This is one of the oldest family tricks in the book. Your family member(s) think that their emotions are created and controlled by you. You are not responsible for other people’s feelings. Whatever someone’s reaction is to your decision to treat the holidays different this year, those are their feelings. You do not have to fix their feelings by changing your mind, comforting them excessively, or feeling guilty about your decision. Don’t make your experience worse just to make them feel better.
REPEAT: Don’t explain yourself too much. Some family members may be able to understand why you need to have boundaries, but others cannot. Have a simple statement that you can repeat to someone that clarifies what the boundary is but does not go into the details of how you are feeling or thinking. It can be a mantra for you to repeat to people. Anticipate that you might need to repeat this more than once.
Keep in mind that you do not have to change everything all at once. Shifting your relationship with your family is a process, and you do not have to have “the answer” right now to how you would like the holidays to go. Take each time that you see your family as an experiment in trying something new, and check-in with yourself afterwards to see how you feel. You can only run through scenarios in your head so much, the only way to truly know what you need to be different is through experiencing different ways of interacting with your family.