Everything seems to get heightened around the holidays— celebrations, joy, expectations… and stress! There’s often immense pressure to adhere to family rituals. Sometimes there’s unrealistic expectations that holidays should be a certain way. As a result, we overextend ourselves physically, financially, and emotionally during the holidays. It can feel easier to just go along with things rather than rock the boat, especially when you know there’s an end date to the stress. But how do you manage the stress in the meantime?
1. Initiate Conversation with Family Members Ahead of Time
If you have grown and changed in a way that affects your family tradition (e.g., becoming vegan when the tradition is to eat turkey), then talk with your family members about that ahead of time. Don’t spring it on them last minute, which will only cause everyone else stress. Also, don’t expect everyone to suddenly drop the holiday tradition just because you can’t participate. Instead, discuss how you can participate in your own way.
2. Mix Things Up
Family traditions are great, but sometimes families outgrow the old traditions. If that’s the case for your family, instead of forcing it, try something new. Brainstorming new fun traditions can be a great bonding experience for some families.
3. Lean on Your Support System
Chances are, you’re not the only person you know that gets stressed out by family during the holidays. Actually, you’re probably not the only person in your family that gets stressed out! Instead of isolating or grumbling to yourself, get support from your friends and family. Sometimes laughing with your aunt about how uptight everyone is, is just what the doctor ordered.
4. Set Boundaries
Decide what kind of boundaries you want to stick to before all the holiday chaos begins. By setting some firm boundaries, you’re better able to take care of yourself and keep balance in your life. In turn, you’ll be better able to handle stressful situations when they arise.
5. Temper Your Expectations
It may be the season for miracles, but don’t hang all your hopes on any family relationships miraculously changing during the holiday season. You’ll be sorely disappointed, and it might cause you to overlook some of the positive parts of being with your family during the holidays. Your best bet, if you’d like things to change, is to work on it during a less stressful time of year.
6. Let Go of How Things “Should” Be
There’s year-round pressure to be a certain way, and it gets amplified during the holidays. You’re bombarded with picture perfect holiday pictures and amazing holiday spreads on social media. It’s easy to get swept into comparing yourself to others and their holiday experiences. By doing so, though, you’re setting yourself up for heightened stress and inevitable let down. Because, seriously, whose family holiday is perfect?
7. Have Compassion (For Yourself and Others)
Holiday stress can bring out the worst in people, yourself included. Instead of lashing out at your family members, try to have compassion for them and how they’re struggling. And if you find yourself behaving a little badly? Have self-compassion instead of beating yourself up, which will only put you in a negative mindset.
8. Get Professional Support
It can be helpful to talk through “toxic” family relationships with an objective, outside person. A psychologist can help you figure out how to set appropriate boundaries, better handle stressful situations, shift your perspective, and identify why certain people or situations upset you so much.
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Does your family stress extend beyond just the holidays? Get a free 20 minute consultation with Dr. Crystal I. Lee to see how she can help.