Understand what causes holiday angst & anxiety. Learn what to do during your next family gathering.
It’s that time again—the beginning of the holiday season. I actually had another topic I was going to address this week in my blog but I succumbed to the pressure I felt (from whom or what, I’m not sure) to write about Thanksgiving. I guess it makes sense to do so as family gatherings provoke a lot of things for many people. For some, the annual get-togethers are something to look forward to—a means to connect and spend time with family. But for many, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of a holiday season riddled with anxiety, trepidation, obligation, and conflict. So for those of you who look forward to breaking bread or a solid turkey drumstick, this article may not resonate. But for those that have any anticipatory anxiety about this coming Thursday or know someone who doesn’t jump for joy with the prospect of another family holiday gathering or lack thereof, please read on.
Here’s my question for you. What is it about holidays that people dread? Why do some of us suddenly turn into a cynical scrooge that would rather spend the holiday digging through trash than enjoying the day with family? What is it about this day that turns relationships that normally feel just fine into relationships that feel strained? I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter so please feel free to comment and chime in. However, since I hold some expertise in human and family dynamics, I will chime in with some of my own and provide a remedy to each. So here it goes. As the holidays approach, you may
- Feel the pressure to be with your family whether or not this is possible or desirable. Feeling obligated to be with family when you rather be skiing or curling up in bed with a good book can result in a lack of enthusiasm. Or wishing you were with your family when you are with another’s can lead to discontent. The remedy: It’s important to remember that you have free choice in the matter. Choose to be or not be with family on Thanksgiving. You will be less resentful and more in charge for your choices. You’ll also enjoy the day more regardless of who you’re with or what you do.
- Anticipate conflict based on past experiences. If your cousin had it out with your father last Thanksgiving, or you and your mother-in-law don’t get along, you may be worried about what new family crisis will ensue this year. The remedy: While this is a normal reaction to past conflict, try to consider that this year may be very different and be present to what that is. Find a way to step out of any power struggles or arguments. People can’t create conflict alone. They need a willing partner.
- Wish that your family was as close as your best friend’s. You are sure that every other family enjoys being together more than yours and this sense of reality can be quite depressing. The remedy: In reality, every family has its share of conflict and you’ll be better off not comparing yours to anyone else’s. Accept everyone for who they are and you just might find a different perspective from which to understand how and why your family is what it is. Make a commitment to create something new with your family and act accordingly. One person can affect change.
- Conclude that you just don’t like the posturing that takes place during family gatherings. The day feels contrived and inauthentic as people compete for attention and power. The remedy: You don’t have to play the game. Instead, find ways to bring authenticity to the day—play a game of Taboo, bring out old family photos and share memories, or focus on young children and pets (they can’t help but be authentic).
- Worry about eating too much, drinking too much, and talking too much. The remedy: Take antacids as needed, drink lots of water before you go to bed, and apologize for any misspoken words before the next family gathering occurs. Or I guess you could monitor you actions and eat, drink, and speak responsibly… but let’s be real—after all, it is Thanksgiving!
If you or someone you know struggles with the holidays, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Holidays can be of time of joy or a time of sorrow, depending on your specific circumstances. You don’t need to struggle alone. This may be just the right time to heal past wounds and create something new. Take advantage of the opportunity receive the support and guidance you deserve.
As always, I’m here to support you in creating strong and powerful relationships.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!
Julie Orlov, psychotherapist, speaker, and author of The Pathway to Love: Create Intimacy and Transform Your Relationships through Self-Discovery
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