Anja van den Berg
Many of us will now be spending time with the extended family. Whether you’re traveling to visit parents or whether they’re coming to stay with you, time spent with family can be filled with blessings — and also lots of stress.
“There’s this idea that holiday gatherings with family are supposed to be joyful and stress-free,” says Dr Ken Duckworth, medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “That’s not the case. Family relationships are complicated. But that’s doesn’t mean that the solution is to skip the holidays entirely.”
Like it or not, extended family and in-laws are part of your life, so having a good relationship with them is vital.
Here’s how to smoothly navigate the family infested waters this festive season.
- Don’t expect a Christmas miracle
Expectations are one of the biggest reasons for feeling stressed about seeing family – around the Christmas holidays in particular. “We think this should be a perfect time, the food will be perfect, and our conversations will be respectful,” says Terri Orbuch, a relationship expert and sociology professor at Oakland University. “But, when our realities don’t match that, we get frustrated. The holidays can also be a time where we’re reminded of what we don’t have – further highlighting the celebration’s non-idyllic qualities,” says psychology professor Pamela Regan.
- Don’t leave anything to chance
You would be wise to start strategising before the doorbell rings about where you are going to sit, what conversations you will have, how you will respond to sensitive issues, and boring questions you can ask to fill the uncomfortable voids, says Therese Borchard, associate editor for Psych Central. “You might invent five or so canned retorts to be used when unjustly interrogated, or compile a list of necessary exit plans should you reach the about-to-lose-it-in-a-big-way point.”
Your family often won’t know what’s important to you unless you voice it. If you would like to excuse yourself for a run, then simply ask, “Would you mind if I go for a jog before we eat?” Clearly stating your needs can help to reduce holiday stress and develop closer family ties. Encourage your family members to do the same, whether it be creating clear boundaries around topics that are discussed, alcohol consumption, or the duration of the family gathering.
- Say goodbye to perceived obligations
If you hate the annual fiasco or less-than-fun scenarios that play out during the family Christmas holiday, chances are that other family members also share that sentiment. Now is the time to change things and make suggestions towards a new approach. For instance, suggest that the family should sign up to help a charity organisation on Christmas day and propose a stress-free Christmas picnic in the local botanical gardens afterwards. If your house is the customary gathering spot for the family Christmas, suggest that everybody club together and rent a holiday home in a tranquil setting.
There is also a strategy that most of us don’t consider: simply opting out of the family gathering. “If it’s going to be that awful, if you dread going to the point where you are anxious and depressed about it for weeks leading up to the event, you don’t have to suffer through it,” Regan says. “You don’t have to feel guilty about making an excuse if it’s necessary to prevent real psychological damage.”
Popular Science: https://www.popsci.com/why-are-families-particularly-stressful-during-holidays
The Chopra Center: https://www.chopra.com/articles/7-ways-to-reduce-family-stress-during-the-holidays#sm.0001v95zbqfmrfdovae1dh4w1ez5k