The holidays are all about spending time with your family and friends. That’s why it’s such a special time, right? Well, let’s be honest; that’s also why it’s such a difficult time. Stress rates spike, family altercations increase, and you somehow find yourself in tears after what should have been a lovely dinner.
Much as we love them, family can be difficult. Whether your family is the type to get into out-and-out arguments, or whether the stress is usually a result of subtle barbs and hurt feelings, we can all use a little extra help with stress management over the holiday season. Here are some tips to help you keep your cool:
It might seem really basic, but it’s a classic because it works. When we’re stressed, our sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive and forces us into a reactive state, where we might act in ways we regret later. It can even become a self-perpetuating cycle, where you become vigilant for any perceived threat and it just continues to feed the stress. Instead, cut off your stress reaction by reassuring your body that it’s not in physical danger. How? Give it oxygen. Regulated, relaxed oxygen. Whenever you find yourself reacting to the stress, start to measure four counts as you inhale, four as you exhale.
If setting boundaries feels like a mean-spirited thing to do, consider sociologist Brene Brown’s advice that the MOST compassionate people are those with clear boundaries. Setting clear boundaries with our loved ones allows you to stop stressing about how much you need to take before just snapping. It also lets you have more peaceful relationships because others know where you stand, instead of being surprised that you’re reacting so negatively to something they say. It’s especially great for those arguments that you keep having over and over again. This post has fantastic advice for setting and communicating boundaries with loved ones in a way that will avoid conflict instead of creating it.
Check Your Self-Talk
Usually we’re quite sensitive to things that our families say because there’s actually more behind every statement. We hate when our sister brags about how great her children are doing in school because we feel self-conscious about our own performance as a parent, or we react badly to our father’s advice because we feel he’s never been satisfied with us, even back when we played little league. Instead of reading into each comment, check your own self-talk. Write it down and follow each lead down to the extreme conclusion so that you can decide whether or not it’s logical. Then, when that harmful self-talk creeps in again, you can nip it in the bud.
Take a Walk
Did you know that walks outside–especially walks in green spaces–have a powerful effect on our cognition? It gets us outside of our own heads, puts our body chemistry into a healthier balance, and redirects self-deprecating thoughts. So include a nice walk around the neighborhood into your family get-together, whether it’s with a few other family members, or just by yourself. If you want some time alone, you can always say that you have to take a call and step outside.
Have an Exit Strategy
By hour 4 of family socializing, stresses and conflict can compound. Evenings that seem to go on and on can wear on us, and yet slipping away might not feel like an option if you have a mother who has perfected guilt-tactics (and let’s face it, all of our mothers know how to guilt us). So, go into the evening with a plan and an excuse to leave. Tell yourself you’re heading out at a certain hour, and a reason why. For example, you might have to get the kids to bed, you might need to get to sleep for an early morning appointment the next day, or you might even have to leave a daytime party before it gets full dark because you don’t want to drive icy roads at night when your vision is compromised. Let your mother try to argue with the safety excuse!