While the holiday season is supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year” it may not be for many. Below are 5 tips for dealing with difficult family members and 5 tips for beating the holiday/winter blues. I hope you find them helpful.
How to Have Happy Holidays with Difficult Family Members
A part of the stress of the holidays can be brought on with having conflict with difficult family members and interacting in dysfunctional or troubling family dynamics. This is exacerbated by expectations born out of the messages around us; Hallmark Cards, Christmas Specials and TV commercials showing happy families during the holidays all conspire to create holiday propaganda that says we should love and get along with our families.
Well the reality is that for many people this is far from accurate or even realistic. We are bombarded with pictures of holiday family bliss that look like they were painted by Norman Rockwell or Romare Bearden when our holiday family tableau would be more accurately captured by Hieronymus Bosch! If you are dreading the upcoming family get togethers this holiday because of difficult family then this article is for you!
Below are my top 5 tips for handling difficult family gatherings:
#1 Set a Positive Intention
#2 Stay out of the Boxing Ring
#3 Get Busy/Focus on Others
#4 Keep Breathing
#5 Have an Exit Strategy
#1 Set a positive intention: Before you enter the family gathering gather yourself. Pray, meditate, do whatever you have to do to get centered then set an intention for the time that you will be there. This could be to get to know a family member better or be helpful in some way or it just may be to remain peaceful. Whatever you choose it should be positive. If you need a physical reminder of this intention you could carry a special token like a medallion with the serenity prayer engraved on it or even a rock or shell that you keep in your pocket. Some experts suggest wearing your watch on your opposite wrist to help you remember your intention.
#2 Stay out of the boxing ring: Family members are adept at pushing our buttons but you don’t have to let them. You do not have to show up to every fight to which you are invited. Especially stay away from touchy subjects like politics! You will only get riled up and won’t change anyone else’s perspective. If someone expresses a strong opinion with which you disagree you can take a breath and just say nothing but if you must reply have some simple phrases to repeat a few times as you plan a hasty retreat to another part of the house. Phrases like “that’s interesting,” “I see” or “I understand how you feel” are good and if you are really brave try saying “You may be right” before gently gliding away. (Remember everyone has a perfect right to think and behave exactly as they want to.)
#3 Get Busy/Focus on others: Nothing like helping out to give you a positive focus. Be of service, offer to help. Focus on making others enjoy themselves. Maybe you have an older relative (who isn’t the problem family member) that could use some doting on. Maybe there are some kids (also not problem children) who could use your attention and may even be begging for an adult to play with them.
#4 Keep Breathing: Take some nice deep slow breaths when you feel that fight or flight syndrome kicking in. It will help calm and center you. Slow deep breathing will activate your parasympathetic nervous system, the system associated with resting and digesting. This isn’t easy stuff so practice loving compassion for yourself then focus on sending that outward to others. Employ huge doses of empathy forgiveness and compassion for everyone present. (Remember this is only a few hours of your life).
#5 Have an Exit Strategy: You may be able to show up early and leave early. If you expect that a gathering will be really bad let the host/hostess know ahead of time that you have another commitment at a time that’s going to mean you have to skedaddle at a certain hour. Your exit strategy should include transportation. There isn’t a Dysfunctional Family Extraction Team that I know of so you will have to arrange your own transport. Drive separately, have cab fare, be prepared to Uber or Lyft. If you have to walk to metro remember comfortable footwear! (There is nothing worse than staggering away upset on a cold night in heels!) Your family may not like you leaving early but it’s self-care so don’t feel guilty.
Once safely away from a tense situation take some time to rest and recover then pat yourself on the back for doing the best you could in a difficult situation.
Bonus Tip: Memorize these simple Four Agreements before you go!
Top 5 Tips for Beating the Holiday Blues
Winter months can bring on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and for some this may be exacerbated by holiday blues. Symptoms of winter SAD usually begin in October or November and subside in March or April. Some folks begin to slump as early as August, while others remain well until January. Depressions are usually mild to moderate, but they can also be severe. Even if you don’t suffer from SAD, gloomy winter months may bring you down and for many people the holiday season can be a tough time. Below are my top 5 tips for beating the holiday blues.
#2: Get Light
#3: Be of Service
#4: Practice Gratitude
#5: Lower Your Expectations
#1: Exercise. Exercise is crucial in combating depression, staving off Alzheimer’s and keeping off unwanted pounds. Do some kind of physical activity you enjoy at least three times a week for 30 mins each time. Exercise can release endorphins and reduce stress. Vary your routine and have fun with it. I keep it simple with walks in the woods and my yoga practice.
#2: Get Light. Get outside when you can in the sunshine even if it’s cold the sun’s rays can lift your mood. Being in nature lifts the spirits of many. I’m lucky enough to get out during the days but some people get relief from phototherapy using light boxes and now they even just have single bulbs ranging from about $4-$10. The light boxes range from about $30-$150. Not all light boxes are effective for treating SAD. Before buying one you may want to read this article from About Health.
#3: Be of Service. Nothing lifts the spirit like getting outside of yourself and doing something for someone else. There are so many ways to bring joy to others. Think of things you can do and do them. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or just do some favors for friends and family. The opportunities are endless. If you can’t come up with anything check out Simple Ways to Give Back…
#4: Practice Gratitude. Holidays are also a great time for people to compare their lives to others and feel lacking. Single people may feel lonely because they don’t have anyone to kiss under the mistletoe. Divorced parents may stress about splitting holidays. Kids with divorced parents may be unsure of who to spend time with. Holiday time may also remind you of loved ones who have passed away. All of these situations can lead us to feel a sense of lack. The antidote for this is GRATITUDE. Focus on what you do have and give thanks for it. Accept and bless YOUR circumstances. When I feel down I write a gratitude list of at least 10 things for which I’m grateful. A roof over your head? A job? Food? Friends? These things are pretty awesome!
#5: Lower Your Expectations. Holidays are often stressful because so many people are striving for a Norman Rockwell type of holiday. Stop it! Don Miguel Ruiz has the right idea with his fourth of his Four Agreements; Always do Your Best. But this isn’t an invitation to perfectionism. It means do your best then leave the rest. Stop trying to control, to be perfect. There is no such thing as the perfect family, party or anything. Don’t compare your experience to anyone else’s. High expectations lead to stress, disappointment, and often resentment. Lower your expectations and watch your serenity and happiness rise.
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