The holidays are a time to celebrate and catch up with family and loved ones; it’s usually a time for happiness, cheer, and fun. It’s supposed to be a joyful and stress-free time to be with loved ones.
However, not everyone feels this way because the holidays offer plenty of reasons to be stressed out and anxious as well. The office parties, the gifts you haven’t bought yet, one social gathering after another, or feeling alone during the holidays. We are all going through different journeys and experience the holidays differently. Though for many, the biggest source of holiday stress is family – the family get-togethers, the obligations, and reunions.
More so if you’re fighting depression or anxiety, the holiday stress can be overwhelming. This can also trigger more serious problems. Family relationships are complicated and many of us face family challenges during holiday reunions, but that doesn’t mean that the solution is to skip the holidays entirely. With holiday family reunions just around the corner, what are some ways that you can prepare yourself and cope better this season?
We’ll be sharing a few tips and advice on how to deal with and manage family stress during the holidays.
To start off, let’s dive into what causes holiday stress in the first place. Everyone has their own unique relationship with their family; this means we all experience the holidays differently based on our unique situations.
If you are feeling anxious or stressed, ask yourself this:
What is it about the holidays that gets you down?
What is it about family gatherings that make you feel stressed or anxious?
Once you get more specific about why the holidays and family get-togethers stress you out, you’ll be able to deal with them more directly.
Here are some of the common causes:
Now that we’ve gone deeper into the causes of stress and anxiety during the Christmas season, here are some ways to handle conflicts and family stress during the holidays.
1. Change your outlook or change your traditions.
Instead of always thinking about what could go wrong during the holidays, try to reframe your thoughts. Instead of dreading seeing your nosey aunt, why not focus on being able to spend time with your nieces or nephews?
You could also try to change up your old traditions. Instead of trying to fit in all the family get-togethers during the busiest time of the year, maybe you could try suggesting a reunion the following month when things aren’t so busy. This will give everyone a chance to step back and come to the gathering with a better outlook.
2. Listen to your body.
Stress affects everyone differently. Some people experience physical symptoms, panic attacks, difficulty breathing, or feeling sick to their stomach. Some may experience emotional symptoms.
Nevertheless, one common factor is that your body tells you something isn’t right even before you acknowledge your own emotions.
When you start feeling those symptoms of stress or anxiety, it’s always best to listen to your body. Here's how:
This is a great exercise that may help you manage your stress and anxiety.
3. Adjust your expectations for the holidays.
The holidays are always marketed as a time for celebration, get-togethers, laughter, and cheer. But in reality, it’s not always true. Make sure to set realistic expectations and be gentle with others and yourself. Don’t always expect every single minute to go as planned or to be perfect. Make sure to allow some room for adjustment and spontaneity. This will help take the pressure off and allow you to enjoy the moment rather than worrying about how things should go.
4. Don’t focus the conversations on differing opinions.
Family members are full of opinions and it's a normal thing. During holiday reunions, there are a lot of differing opinions in one room. When conversations around differing opinions start to intensify and cause tension, respectfully ask to pause the conversation. You may try saying, “Thank you for your opinion, I respect you, but can we put this conversation on pause for now and talk about something else?” You have the power to choose which conversations to engage in and you have the power to control the conversation. This can help you manage your stress.
5. You don’t have to take anyone’s advice.
During family reunions, a lot of questions may be asked especially by some nosey relatives. But remember, you don't have to answer questions that you feel uncomfortable with. In addition to that, you don't have to take anyone's unsolicited advice.
6. Be okay with walking away.
During conversations that start to feel heavy, it’s okay to walk away. It’s much better to take a walk and let things simmer down rather than wish you hadn’t said those hurtful words. You are allowed to remove yourself from the situation if you see it escalating to a harmful point. However, if you're unable to leave but need to calm yourself down, try coping mechanisms like deep breathing exercises.
7. Ask for support.
Even your closest family members and those with your best intentions in mind could cause you pain, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Maybe a family member commented on your weight, your looks, or your status in life in a way that was hurtful. Instead of getting angry because of their words or actions, try to encourage them to help you in a healthier way instead. Try saying this: “It would help me feel supported if you …” and then include gentle and specific actions your family or loved one can take to help you.
8. Take turns with relatives.
You don’t have to fit all your family reunions in one month. If possible, try to space out the reunions and get-togethers. You may want to have one side of the family over in December and the other side of the family in January. This will lessen the overwhelm and stress that comes with all these holiday reunions and traditions.
Family can be one of the biggest factors that cause us stress, most especially during the holidays; but this doesn’t mean that we should avoid them entirely. When you prepare ahead of time and follow these tips, you’ll be able to manage your stress more effectively. The best holiday gifts you can give yourself are equal doses of self-care, grace, and self-love. So, this holiday season, focus on being more proactive toward protecting your mental health by setting boundaries. You’ll thank yourself later.
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