Holidays are a time of joy and celebration, but family gatherings can turn into family conflict. If the thought of spending quality time with family brings on a migraine, think preparation and preservation says Julie Kugler-Bentley, LCSW-C, CEAP, RN of Meritus Health’s Behavioral Health.
“You know yourself and your family so think in advance of what you’re dealing with,” says Julie. Before a holiday gathering, Julie recommends rehearsing ways to defuse a potential conflict. “Find an ally who can pull you out of a conversation or change the conversation to a neutral topic like football.” Rehearsed responses like, “It’s the holidays and I prefer not to talk about this,” can circumvent sticky situations.
Julie also recommends discussing family holiday anxieties with close friends, a spouse or an employee assistance program counselor before the holidays are in full swing. Follow these tips to survive the holidays and come out on top:
Change your expectations. If dysfunction runs in your family, don’t set the expectation that your holiday will resemble a Currier and Ives picture. “The normal family doesn’t exist,” explains Julie. Set the bar low and accept your relatives’ behaviors as something you cannot change.
Set a threshold for how much relative face time you can tolerate. Stay in a hotel for extra breathing room or attend the holiday dinner and skip your aunt’s brunch. Is it OK to tell white lies? Yes, according to Julie. It’s fine to limit the holiday party to one hour because of another engagement—even if the engagement is a movie with your immediate family.
Take care of business. View the holiday gatherings as a business engagement. Make an appearance, engage in small talk and look for the closest exit. Once you check the holiday dinner off your to-do list, reward yourself by attending a holiday event that truly warms your soul.
Take care of yourself. Look at what makes you happy during the holidays and carve out time to savor the season. Decorate the Christmas tree, bake cookies or snuggle up by the fire with a mug of hot chocolate and a good book. “Self-preservation is so important during the holidays,” says Julie.
Change it up. If you have input into family gatherings, suggest a game or activity that avoids the small talk. Involve the kids in the game to keep conversation neutral and on the high road.
Make a decision. “It takes two people to fight. It’s your choice whether you allow a person to push your buttons,” says Julie. Attend the party with detachment and observe your family members as if watching a play.
Give thanks for what’s right in your life. End the family gathering on a high note says Julie. Ask each family member to give thanks for one thing in their life. And remember, holidays are just one snippet of your life. Take stock in your immediate family, significant other, your health or your career.
Finally, watch your alcohol intake during the holiday season warns Julie. “You can plan and prepare all you want, but if you become inebriated, all your strategies will go out the window.”
Source: Psychology Today.