Nearly everybody travels to see family for the holidays or hosts guests at home. Whether your family is nearby or far, far; getting together with family is tradition. Mental health professionals spend weeks leading up to these visits and then weeks afterward hearing about the struggles of family drama. Playing host can be stressful, (but at least you get to sleep in your own bed). Traveling over the river and through the woods can be overwhelming, (or seem easier than welcoming a house full of guests). Whatever your stressor, it might be worthwhile to stop honing in on everyone else’s shortcomings and instead think about your own. Maybe you can do better, and maybe your can improve the holiday stress for the whole family.
Shift your attention to these 13 areas of self-management and enjoy a brighter holiday:
1. Treat difficult family members the way you believe people ought to treat others-instead of acting on your emotions or treating them the way it seems they “deserve” to be treated. Unpleasant behavior just makes things worse for everyone, deserved or otherwise.
2. Focus on the positives. Everyone has something good to offer. Instead of spending your time thinking about what everyone is doing wrong, stop and consider how hard they are working to get some things right. Notice when your brother bites his tongue at an offensive remark, or when your cousin stays longer to appease grandma instead of sneaking off to see her friends. Appreciate these little attempts to create harmony.
3. Adapt to the traditions. Maybe you wish things could be more like the good ole days, or maybe your in-laws have some strange customs. No matter what feels out of place, adjust your expectations to make it work. Adopt new traditions. Be flexible.
4. Say no. If you’re feeling too overwhelmed or annoyed to participate in one more game of canasta, or if you just cannot stomach another trip to the mall, speak up and opt out. Saying yes to activities that make you grouchy or tap your energies will not add joy to the season. Overwhelming yourself can lead to bad behavior later.
5. Be present. Put down your cell phone for a little while. Stop daydreaming. Tune-in to what’s right in front of you and notice all the little joys of family members. Staying mindfully present staves off the grumpies by keeping you from fantasizing about being somewhere else- somewhere quieter, with cooler family members.
6. Rest. Sleep in. Nothing contributes to the stress of the holidays more universally than fatigue. Flying in causes jet lag, driving long distances hurts your back and tires you out, and even just keeping pace with all the activities can drain your energies. So, head to bed early or catch an afternoon nap. You’ll be better company.
7. Play. Laugh. Build a Lego project with the kids. Toss around a football or make paper airplanes. Be a kid again, not just a sullen grown-up. Holiday gatherings should be fun. Have a little.
8. Sneak off for a little alone time now and then. Take a walk outside, or make a run for some last minute stocking stuffers, do whatever is necessary to take care of yourself. Don’t push yourself to overdo together time. Take a break when you need one.
9. Entertain yourself. Don’t expect your host or hostess to keep you happy during the stay, bring something to do for yourself. Whether it’s a crafting project or settling down with a good book, have an activity you can use to get out of the way or recharge your batteries.
10. Look for family friendly activities that include the whole bunch, whatever the ages. Board games, card games, or traditional holiday movies can be fun ways for the family to connect. You’re gathering to make memories. Make some good ones.
11. Help out. If someone else is doing the cooking, offer to run to the grocery store for forgotten items, or help set the table or wash the dishes afterward. The best guests are the helpful ones, so hop up and offer a hand!
12. Say please and thank you. Even if you’re visiting your parents, remember they’ve worked hard to make the festivities come together for the family this holiday. Be a gracious houseguest or host. When you want something from the fridge or help with a task, ask nicely. Don’t be bossy or ungrateful.
13. Cut down on the booze. Many a family meltdown has begun because of holiday spirits. Drinking alcohol leads to a release of the inhibitions. And, even if you’re the jovial drinker, alcohol disrupts sleep quality and can lead to fatigue, impatience, and the eventual loss of control. Do yourself a favor and don’t overdo the holiday drink.
13. Let go of your expectations. Your biggest enemy this holiday may be the images you’re carrying around in your mind of something better. You get what you get when it comes to family. Don’t complain; just accept the family, the customs, the accommodations, and the whole package.