5 Simple Ways To Beat Stress And Have Fun This Holiday Season

Family, Self

No family is picture perfect, but with these tips, you can get pretty darn close.

Family problems can be difficult to manage at any time, but during the holidays, the stress that surrounds them seems to be worse. All around us, we see images of happy families, and there seems to be a social pressure for everyone to live up to these ideal, picture-perfect gatherings of loved ones.  What happens, though, if your family doesn't match this expectation? What if you and other members of your family find the holidays stressful because everyone doesn't get along? Or, what if you just feel overwhelmed by all you have to do this time of year?

Here are my five tips for dealing with anxiety during the holiday season to help bring harmony to your family gatherings:

  1. Divide Your Holidays: Instead of traveling to multiple family gatherings, make a pact to meet at one location for each Holiday and then take turns hosting. One of the most stressful things about the holidays is traveling to and from different family member's homes. Traffic and weather conditions can make it dangerous and time consuming, so you often end up spending more time in your car than with the people you care about. In addition, it's just a lot of pressure to make sure you see everyone you're "supposed to." Keep things simple and come up with a Holiday calendar and then rotate. This year, meet at your Mom's house for Thanksgiving and then your house for Christmas. Not only do you save time and the stress of traveling from one house to the other, you take turns on sharing the work of cooking and cleaning up for everyone. As an added benefit, you don't consume the calories of two Holiday meals like you would have if you'd gone to two family functions in the same day.
  2. Let Go Of The Expectation That Everyone Will Be In A Good Mood And On Their Best Behavior: As much as you would like everyone to make an effort to get along, realize that at the end of the day that you can only be responsible for yourself and how you react to things. Ideally, when you get together with your loved ones, everyone will have the same motivation to make it a fun and peaceful time; unfortunately, some members of your family may have other issues going on that will get in the way of an ideal family gathering. Participate with the spirit that you will bring your best to the table, and try as hard as you can not to let the actions and words of others bring you down. If you have a less-than-pleasant relationship with someone, try to keep a polite distance. Also keep in mind that some people who are unpleasant do so because they are looking for a reaction. If you don't give them one, they will usually stop bothering you and look for someone else to pick on. If you sense tension in the air, don't feed into it. Avoid hot-button topics, try to keep alcohol use down to a minimum, and if at all possible, have some activities planned such as board games or even going out for a walk together to help keep everyone focused on pleasant and fun things. 
  3. Make Time For Yourself: In this season of socializing, gifting and hosting, we often get so run down that by the time a family get together rolls around, we're exhausted (and quite often cranky). You will be much calmer and happier going into a family gathering if you are well rested. Be sure to take at least ten minutes a day doing something you enjoy. It doesn't need to be expensive or complicated—and can be as simple as sneaking off to a quiet place and reading a magazine, meditating, cat napping, or if you have just a little more time, you can run off and get a quick manicure and pedicure. When we feel good, it shows, and being well rested helps us handle stressful situations better because we're more inclined to let the little things we can't control not get to us.
  4. Learn To Say No: You don't have to attend every party and gathering you're invited to, give a gift to everyone you run into, or cook or bake something for everyone that asks you. Do what you can and accept the fact that you will not be able to be everything for everybody. There is no award at the end of the Holiday Season for the "best person." Do what you can and be okay with it.
  5. Be Organized: There is nothing worse than trying to figure out where you're supposed to be and when, getting your kids and yourself dressed, and then rushing to prepare meals at the last minute. Map out where you're supposed to be and give yourself plenty of time to get there. Lay out your clothes and your children's clothes the night before so all you have to do is put them on the day of your gathering. Plan simple meals and prepare as much and as many of them as you can ahead of time.

Christina Steinorth-Powell is a Licensed Psychotherapist in Dallas, Texas and the author of Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships.  You can order her book here: http://www.amazon.com/Cue-Cards-Life-Reminders-Relationships/dp/0897936167