Bright Light Counseling Center
How to Survive the Holidays With Family
5 Tips to Reduce Holiday Stressors
The holiday season is a time of festivity. But family gatherings can be full of friction. If you're
already imagining what this year's emotional blowout is going to look like, don't worry. This year
can be different. Just check out the tips below.
Have a game plan
If you're reading this blog post, you're already in a better position than you were last year. Why?
Because you're thinking ahead. It's important to make an action plan ahead of time while you've
got the space to think clearly and can approach the scenario with a level head. In order to come
up with your game plan, you need to start by really getting to know yourself...
1. Get to know your values
If you anticipate there being conflict or disagreements during your family visit, it's important to know which ones you'll speak up about and which ones you can let slide.
Doing some digging into your personal value system can help you make that distinction. Make a list of your values, and rank them by importance.
If reducing waste is important to you but near the bottom of your list, maybe you'll let Mom's
elaborately and individually wrapped gifts slide. If gender equality is at the top of your list, it may
be important to you to tell Cousin Bobby you don't want to hear his sexist jokes.
Need help exploring and clarifying your values? We love this guided exercise.
2. Get to know your triggers
Knowing what discussion topics or situations might bring up an emotional reaction in you is
important. If you see a trigger moment coming, have a plan for how you'll navigate it. Will you
change the topic? Will you excuse yourself to another room? Will you take a few moments and listen to some songs on your favorite playlist? Will you take three deep breaths before you speak?
Also, knowing what happens in your body and brain when triggered helps to identify the most helpful response. If you notice body sensations - such as having a hard time breathing or your heart starts racing, finding ways to soothe your body will be key. For example - taking long slow deep breaths will calm your body. If you notice a flood of thoughts - such as harsh judgements and criticisms of your self, taking a step a way to pause, notice the thoughts, and letting them go will be helpful.
3. Get to know your boundaries
Once you've identified your values and triggers, it's time to plan how you'll set your boundaries.
These can be boundaries only you need to know about, or boundaries you communicate to the
people around you.
Here's an example of a boundary only you may know about: I'll engage in group conversations
with Dad, but I won't go out of my way to have one-on-one conversations with Dad.
Here's an example of a boundary you could communicate to a family member: "I don't want to
have a conversation about my sex life during this visit. Let's talk about something else."
It might feel uncomfortable, especially if you are new to setting boundaries. However, being clear, consistent, and concise is helpful in communicating your boundaries to others. An example of a concise boundary is: "No." No is a complete sentence. There are times when you do not need to offer an explanation, and excuse, or further engage in a conversation.
4. During the visit
Give yourself grace, and recognize that it's okay for this to feel challenging or however it feels for you. Give yourself permission to take breaks when you need it. You can say, "I'm happy to see everyone, but I need a little alone time."
Recognize if you are too focused in your head on your worries and that you might not be present in the moment and enjoying what might be occurring. If you find this is true for you, take a moment, look around the room and in your head name 5 things that you see, 4 things that you can touch, 3 things that you hear, two things that you smell, and one thing that is going well. This quick exercise will help bring you back to the present moment and ground you in the here and now.
Don't be afraid to cut the visit short if you need to. If you're being mistreated by a family
member, or if it's just too emotionally draining, you always have the choice to leave. It might feel
strange if you've never exercised that choice before, but it is your choice.
"No." is a complete sentence
5. After the visit
Prior to your visit (yes, we know this tip is about after the visit, but planning ahead is important too!), talk with you support system and let them know that you are attending a gathering and might have a difficult time. Ask for what you need from them. Do you want them to text you at a certain time to see how you are doing? Do you need to know if they will be available for a phone call?
Have a friend or loved one on-call during the visit or shortly after. Set aside some time to engage with your support system as soon after the visit as possible--even if that support system is just your cat!
Reflect, what are you feeling proud of yourself for during the visit? Did you set a boundary for the first time? Did you remember to use your soothing skills? Did you stop yourself from lashing out when triggered?
Reflect, what went well? What went better than expected? What will you continue to do? What will you do different?
Do something that you enjoy. Have it pre-prepped prior to going to your family gathering. If you enjoy being warm and cuddly on the couch, lay out your comfy clothes, snuggly blanket, and have a pre picked movie, TV Show, or book ready for you. If you like creativity, have your materials ready and set up.
Even if the visit ends up in a disaster, give yourself some credit. You did your best and practiced a new, more self-supporting dynamic. That's something to be proud of!
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