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Opinion: 5 Ways To Deal With Family Stress During The Holidays

Tracey Masella, LCSW, from New Canaan’s Silver Hill Hospital, offers tips on dealing with stressful family situations during the holidays. Before you know it, it will be time for holiday feasts, festive parties and family gatherings. For many, holiday season makes stress levels go through the roof. Remember when you were a child and the holidays were a magical time of year? You couldn’t wait to open gifts and see all of your family. As we grow older, holidays become a chore instead of fun, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With preparation and self-care, you can make the holiday season fun and enjoyable again.

Dealing With Family Dynamics
Everyone has at least one person in their family that causes drama each year; whether it’s Uncle Joe, who always brings up politics or your mother-in-law who is dropping hints about wanting to be a grandma. You love your family, but sometimes it’s hard to deal with them all in one place for an extended period of time. What can you do?

Remember You’re an Adult
Did you ever notice how quickly you become a teenager again when you go home for the holidays? Mom
might treat you like you don’t know how to do anything and in turn, you become argumentative, just like you did years ago. Even though old habits die hard, remember you are a capable adult and have the ability to act in a different way than you did as a kid. Try your best to respond in a calm, rational manner in order to diffuse tension. You can’t control other people, but you can control how you respond.

Have Realistic Expectations
The famous quote attributed to Albert Einstein says, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over
and over again, but expecting different results.” If the same family drama happens every year, don’t expect this year to be different. Instead, be prepared. Know how you will react if someone triggers you; maybe you go outside to get some fresh air or go to the bathroom to collect your thoughts. If you know your stress level rises the minute you enter the house, come up with a healthy way to calm yourself down. When you don’t have high expectations, you won’t be disappointed; maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Keep Alcohol Consumption to a Minimum
Do you find yourself downing an extra glass or two of wine at dinner to make it through the day? Alcohol isn’t the answer and might even make things worse. When you drink while you’re anxious or stressed, you are more likely to consume large amounts of alcohol in an effort to numb your feelings. As a result, your inhibitions are lowered and you might react in ways that increase family tension. Although you feel relaxed in the short-term, you can be left feeling depressed and anxious as the alcohol leaves your system.

Don’t Stray Too Much from Your Routine
If going to your gym class is what keeps your stress levels in check, make sure you don’t skip it just because it’s the holiday season. Take a break from family for a little while and do what makes you feel good. Also, don’t forget to get enough sleep and not overindulge. It’s ok to vary your routine a bit, but try to maintain a sense of normalcy as much as possible. You will be able to better cope with whatever the holidays throw at you if you are feeling good.

Do Things Because YOU Want to
If you try to please everyone else in your life and do nothing that makes you happy during the holidays (or the rest of the year for that matter), you will feel resentful and more stressed. It’s great to do things for others, but don’t neglect your own needs and wants. A lot of “have-to’s” appear on our to-do list during the holiday season, but review those and only do what is most important. Maybe you skip a party or break a tradition for the sake of your sanity; know when to say no to things.

Most importantly, take a moment to remember what the holiday season is all about; family, giving, love, peace and joy. So, instead of spending hours in lines or on the computer searching for the “perfect” gifts, spend your time with the ones you love instead.

Here are 30 simple ways to enjoy the season this year. Pick a few and have some fun!

By Tracey Masella, LCSW
Silver Hill Hospital
New Canaan, CT