The holidays are stressful–the frenzied shopping, preparing traditional food, and the looming obligation to spend time with family. The atmosphere around the holidays can be cheery but spending time with relatives we might prefer to avoid can create a breeding ground for emotional distress.
That’s not to say that many people don’t enjoy or look forward to the holidays because people do. It’s a time to connect with those we love and a time of reflection. However, even when people are looking forward to the holidays, they still report increased stress! (source: https://www.ucihealth.org/blog/2021/12/beating-the-holiday-blues)
Here are some tips for managing stress and taking care of yourself this holiday season.
When we say practice, that means we aren’t expected to be perfect at it! Gratitude must be remembered going into the holidays, as well as during the celebrations. There are many people who don’t have any family or financial stability who describe utter despair around this time of year. Take a few minutes to remind yourself what you do have, instead of focusing on what you don’t. This is extremely helpful in changing the way we think, and an attitude of gratitude makes it easier to avoid engaging in unproductive conflicts over the holidays.
Be Flexible and Compromising
Putting pressure on the family to maintain traditions causes more stress and it’s not going to change the reality: the family structure changes and accommodations need to be made to the holiday routines. When something happens like adult children getting married, a shift occurs in the family structure. This can lead to changes in family holiday traditions. While trying to reconcile these changes, people often report feeling disappointed; even lonely. The adjustment can cause painful reflection about life, about change, about aging.
Any unnecessary pressure on adult children or on yourself will lead to more stress. Flexibility and understanding are crucial. An open dialogue to share what each person needs and how to compromise or be flexible, can be a gamechanger. Traditions will be rearranged, and, for example, one holiday will be spent with you, and the other with the in-laws. Or perhaps your family will take it one year at a time.
Walk Away from Arguments
Conflict within the family is usually a result of built-up resentments. Things that happened years ago, without any resolution or discussion, fester under the surface. The smallest trigger can lead to an explosive argument.
Years of conflicts unresolved and words left unsaid create tension, putting us on the verge of exploding. When we are resentful, the tension is not only emotional, but also physical. Most of the time, our go-to is to speak up to get rid of these feelings.
Unfortunately, this can make things worse. It may feel cathartic for a single moment, but it only escalates the conflict. It won’t lead to any resolution, and you won’t get someone to take responsibility for hurting you by yelling.
Strength is required to let it go. If you can let go by practicing acceptance and forgiveness, you (and others) will feel much better. But for so many of us, this isn’t easy.
Accept and Let Go
Since these resentments won’t be resolved by talking them through, we are left with two choices: hold onto anger, or let it go. It seems like a contradiction to let go of something that has hurt you and caused you pain. The truth is that holding onto resentment doesn’t hurt the other person nearly as much as it hurts you.
Letting it go can feel like we are letting our aggressor get away with mistreatment, but we let go for ourselves. We can move on from feeling sick with resentment by accepting our loved one’s limitations. Practice letting go of angry feelings and you will find the ability to maintain greater peace during the holidays and beyond.
Like gratitude, letting go changes the way our brains think. Moving from focusing on all the negative and hurtful things to reminding ourselves of what we are thankful for lightens the mood. Enjoy this time. Decide not to waste time by holding onto anger. Reminding yourself that you have a choice over how you let someone affect you.
Happy Holidays & remember to “Live life WELL…it’s a CHOICE!