Let's just get it out in the open: The holidays are one very mixed bag. Yes, I look forward to reconnecting and spending time with family, but like many people, the prospect of all that togetherness can be stressful and anxiety-provoking. The reason? A situation in my family I call "The Great Divide". There's an unresolved rift between some of my relatives that feels so much deeper this time of year — the resentment, the unwillingness to forgive and move on. It's upsetting and sad and there's not one thing I can do to fix it. I'm a bystander who refuses to take sides. I know it's ultimately up to those directly involved to decide to make that change.
I know I'm not alone in this. I see an exponential increase in stress and anxiety in my patients this time of year as they voice worries over their own version of family strife. But despite the challenges — and yes, some are bigger than others — it is possible to not only survive the holidays but actually enjoy them as well. Here are some of things I focus on this time of year that might just help you, too:
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1. Embrace Family Differences
Despite our differences, I have a colorful, complex, dynamic, and loving family. I cannot imagine my life without any of them. However, embracing family differences is sometimes easier said than done. This has proven challenging for me at different times in my life especially with people who exhibit repeated unhealthy and irritating behaviors.
However, over time I did change. What did I do differently? I changed my mindset to one of greater understanding and acceptance for whom my family is as well as whom they are not. Making that change has been immeasurably beneficial for me and is directly linked to my happiness. If I continued to wish my parents or siblings were different, that would have kept me stuck in an unhealthy mindset that truly serves no purpose. It would also have prevented me from having a relationship with my family in the here and now rather wishing for them to be different.
2. Set Personal Boundaries
I have learned the hard way how to set personal boundaries with my time, money, and availability. Having been a people pleaser most of my life and adverse to conflict, in the past I would say yes, when I really wanted to say no. I will never forget the purple and yellow button I had when I was younger, that said, "I just said no and I don't feel guilty!" I often think of that button. However, by teaching myself how to say no to small things, helped me say no to bigger things. As I continued to do this, I became more confident in myself and in my decisions. Setting boundaries has created enormous freedom for me.
3. Focus On The positives
I focus on the positives rather than the negatives. For example, although I do not have the opportunity to spend the holidays with all my relatives at once like we used to, I still have time to spend individual time with them and create new traditions and memories. The benefit to this is it has helped me focus on the overall picture and cherish my experiences with my family.
4. Boost Those Endorphins
Anything feels more manageable when you feel healthy, strong and well-rested. So be good to yourself. Maintain good energy by exercising, taking a time out, or spending some time alone. Breathe. Laugh. Repeat. You'll notice the difference!
5. Curb The Merry (Just A Little)
Yes, this is the season of cheer, but too much alcohol lowers our inhibitions. We have less control over what we say and the tone we use. The likelihood for arguments and misunderstandings goes way up. This is also the season where we tend to overeat because food is simply everywhere. When stress and conflict go up, our ability to make healthy food choices goes down. Learning to manage the conflict and monitor your mood will help you stay on track with food choices.
6. Create Realistic Expectations
Ask yourself, what are your expectations for the holidays? We all have them. Are you expecting the perfect holiday? Move away from perfection and anticipation about how things may or may not turn out. This helps decrease frustration and disappointment. I realize it's not always possible to "just smile and get along" and pretend everything is ok, but sometimes a smile does go a long way.
7. Reach Out And Connect
Relationships take work year round, so don't postpone having a difficult conversation during the holidays. It's important to address issues and problems when they occur rather than letting them fester and possibly explode during the holidays. This will help reduce conflict and increase happiness during the holidays!
The holidays are only as joyous as you make them. Consider following my tips for a fun, easy-going holiday season and you'll be sure to have a better time this year!
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