There are people who are born for the holidays.  They finish gift shopping by Halloween, have a fully decorated house by Thanksgiving and have their holiday menu planned by December 1st.  The holidays bring out the very best in them and they can think of nothing they would rather do than spend time with family.

And then there are those that dread the holidays. The season can drain their coping mechanisms with increased obligations, limited sleep and overindulgence in food and drink. Add to that, the family dysfunction they seek to avoid the rest of the year. For these individuals, the family dinner alone can be highly anxiety provoking.

Reverting back to childhood roles during the holidays is common and can bring up feelings of both joy and pain.  It can accentuate the loss of a loved one or further emphasize that some family members never change. The good news is you do not have to avoid the holidays entirely.  Below are some suggestions for preparing yourself a celebration and focusing on the meaning of the season.

 

  • Commit to self-care.  Keep up with your usual exercise routine and avoid temptations to overeat.  Stick to your regular sleep schedule and remember that while consuming alcohol in small amounts relieves tension for the moment, it is a depressant that can actually increase stress levels.  Our stress levels are more manageable when we feel good physically.
  • Do not try to fix lifetime long-standing family feuds.  If you have had a poor relationship with a sibling for the past 20 years, the holiday time is not the time to delve into trying to fix the issue.  If nothing has been done to heal the core issues to date, do not expect the holiday to magically change things.
  • Try a new tradition.  Try something new, travel for the holidays or invite good friends or a neighbor to the table.  People tend to behave better when “outsiders” are present. Consider volunteering at a shelter for the day.
  • Make a plan.  Manage expectations and give thought to how you will escape toxic issues from penetrating.   Think about what your disengagement response will be to the relative who irritates you the same way every year.  Wait three seconds before speaking and know that it is not about you.   If still you are about to lose it in a big way, have an exit strategy and a Plan B to enjoy the holidays, so you are not isolated or alone after a confrontation.
  • Unload to a third party.  If you feel yourself getting more anxious or depressed as the holidays continue, ask your doctor for a recommendation for a therapist.  While a good friend can lend an ear and a safe place to unload,  a professional can help walk you through coping strategies during a scheduled time, allowing you to manage stress more effectively in the moment. 
  • Keep your sense of humor. If you relate to the challenges of family dysfunction, the below quote may make you smile:

 "Happiness is having a large, loving, close knit, family in another city" – George Burns