How to Survive the Holiday Season With Your Family

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The holiday season is here, and while this can be a wonderful and joyous time it can also come with plenty of stress. For many people, family dynamics can contribute to anxiety about holiday gatherings, but the beauty of this type of stress is that it can be planned for. These predictable stressors allow us to fill our tool belts with the necessary items for managing holiday interactions before any difficulties are met.

The thing with family — whether in-laws or immediate — is that they have patterns of interaction, meaning that if your mother is critical of your single status, you’ll know the topic will likely be brought up over the holidays. Planning what and how you will respond to this topic can help to keep things in the joyous spirit of the holidays without escalating conflict.

Understand what is behind the criticism

On the other hand, be able to tell when and if criticism moves towards the abusive. If your mother uses expletives and says you’ll never find a man because you are too ugly or too fat, you likely won’t get the response you seek no matter how you respond.

The good thing is, you can prepare for all of this! Thinking about potential criticisms on a spectrum from annoying to abusive can help you tailor your responses to productively handle the situation while still protecting yourself.

Measure your planned responses accordingly

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Remember, the goal for the holiday season is for everyone to have a nice time together, so ensuring that you prepare your responses in advance can help make sure that you don’t escalate conflict by over responding to inferred slights.

Step 1: Ask nicely

Your first line of defense should always be to calmly let the other person know that you would prefer to keep the focus of the holidays on the fun stuff. A great idea is to plan topics in advance that you can use to redirect any conversations that may be headed towards conflict. For example, if you know your father is going to ask you about your job, acknowledge that he is coming from a place where he wants to know you are taken care of, and then try and suggest alternate topics like travel, health, or entertainment.

Step 2: Remind with compassion

If you can present alternative ways to connect then you will have a better chance of turning conversations back to the productive. For example, if an uncle tells racist jokes that make you feel uncomfortable, rather than telling him how wrong his humor is, ask him instead if he knows any G-rated jokes. This gives a helpful alternative that gets your point across while avoiding any conflict.

Step 3: Remove yourself

This is also a great opportunity to take care of yourself so that you remain calm. Take a walk or drink some hot cocoa, and if you can, call a friend to help vent some of your frustration. Again, since family interactions are predictable stressors, it might be a good idea to plan with a friend in advance where you can call him or her if needed.

Step 4: Give yourself permission to avoid the situation

Tips to remember during the holidays:

“Dad, I appreciate that you want to know if I am financially sound, but how about we plan a visit after the holidays to discuss my finances.”

  • Recognize that different people have different ways of connecting, and don’t always make the conversation about what you want to talk about. You don’t want others to feel that they have to audition a list of topics to talk to you.

“Mom, thanks for the concern about my well-being, but right now I’d like to hear about what is going on in your life.”

  • Avoid criticizing topics that are brought up without providing an alternative in a loving and compassionate way.

“Hey dad, instead, I’d like to tell you about the concert I just went to since we are both such fans of jazz.”

About those in-laws…

Again, this is a predictable stressor for you and your partner, so planning a course of action through productive communication can help improve these relationships. For example, if a mother-in-law constantly brings up the subject of grandchildren, calmly tell your partner that you know his mother means well, but that you are feeling a lot of pressure from these statements. Help give your partners the right tools by offering solutions for productive responses. For example, on the first step of the barometer this may include your partner telling his mother in a loving way that you are taking your time on the decision and that you both prefer to enjoy the family the way it is now.

Remember, the holidays are meant to be a joyous time for family and friends, so make sure you avoid as much stress as possible by preparing for any possible conflict in advance.

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Clinical psychologist | Founder of Carmichael Psychology | TV commentator | Specializes in #anxiety, #dating, #relationships and #goals | www.DrChloe.com/blog

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