The holidays, while fun and often filled with family and joy, can also be stressful. This is in the best of circumstances. Each of us also has a story of the Holiday dinner that was a nightmare because of a family drama that is unique to each family as each goose’s wobble. Maybe you will always remember the holiday after the divorce, or the time someone became so intoxicated they destroyed the dinner, or the time that you were all alone because of finances or circumstances or choice. Whatever the reason, for many, this Holiday season is conjuring extra anxiety in many.

The world has been stressful this year from a roller coaster of political news to natural disasters to mass shootings. Each person has been touched in some way. So in celebrating this year, as hard as it may seem, focusing on the resiliency you have built up over the years from the drama’s before and using that as appreciation for the family, whether by blood or by choice, will stand you in good stead. I’ve written below about just some of the situations I have heard from the people around me that are causing dread and anxiety. So please, see if one of these situations applies to you and let me know if it is helpful. Or please, write of how you plan to tackle a situation I might not have mentioned:

The relative who does not know how to NOT talk politics
While the election divided this country, almost everyone I know has tried to find some way of re-uniting with loved ones on the other side. But no matter how hard some of us have tried, there can often seem to be one loved one who can’t leave the tender subject alone. To prepare, here are a just a few practical tips to try.

  1. Distract, distract, distract. Find a chore to help with, ask if they need another drink, change the topic, suddenly become interested in the football play behind them, and the easiest of all, compliment them. While basic, when our blood is boiling, this can be hard. But just keep in mind, that you are present with this person because at the end of the day, you care about them, no matter what nonsense they may be spouting at this moment.
  2. I hear you. Often, this person enjoys the conflict of the argument. They are deliberately seeking you out and goading an often painful topic because they want to engage in an argument. But an argument needs at least two people. You do not need to ever agree with them but just try a simple “I hear what you are saying.” Another classic is, “That is an interesting point.” Both are fairly meaningless, do not signal agreement, and completely shut down the argument. Whatever you choose, do not engage in the argument.
  3. Remember those around you. Maybe the person who is the political junkie or argumentative person is yourself. You just don’t understand how everyone takes it so personal and you don’t know why you have been warned to keep this to yourself. If this sounds like you, remind yourself that you are a loving person who wants to make someone in that room happy. To do this, maybe this is not the time to point out the hypocrisy or the double standard or the injustice that you just know another person is committing right that minute in the room. If you can’t find something that you may agree with or have in common with the person you are cornering, glance at the person you care about, and repeat to yourself, “I want to honor the love I have for that person, so I will let this go and concentrate on something else.”

Lost everything or at least something important

Many people this year have lost their homes, all of their possessions, and possible a loved one. Trying to celebrate a holiday when you are struggling or overwhelmed can seem impossible. If you have the resources, this is a great year to get out of town and to connect with loved ones that you might not have been so close to recently. This may be hard for reasons from the past, your own values and pride, a sense of depression and drowning, but the people in your life have been struggling to find a way to support you and this will also give them a way to reach out to you. If you do not have the resources to leave, find a way to connect to the people around you. Connection is a fundamental human need and holidays are a way for us to create or reaffirm a community. Look to the community around you of friends, of various non profit agencies, and of hotels that will be offering community holiday celebrations.

And if you still find yourself alone and struggling on the day, please reach out to a friend, a family member, a stranger, a Crisis hotline, or someone else in need. The holidays are about celebrating our shared humanity, do not be afraid to reach out and ask for some help.

Expectations

Expectations can overwhelm us in the best of situations. And in the case of holidays, the expectations behind a gift, a visit, or of the feelings we “should” be feeling can be exponentially higher. Often these expectations come from within. We “have to create the perfect dinner”, or “find just the right present”. But the most pernicious expectation I hear this time of year has to do with our feelings. So many of us beat ourselves up for not being cheerful, happy, or filled with joy every minute of the season. Maybe your annoyed with your child for not liking or playing with the gift they whined for half a year. Maybe your melancholy after dinner because it felt like everyone was fighting or you miss someone. Maybe you’ve slaved all day in the kitchen and no one has offered to help out or said thank you. No matter how small or minor the feeling, sometimes the fact that we are not feeling grateful around our friends and family may cause guilt and shame. I would ask you to stop and really think about that. At any other time would you expect yourself to be happy and grateful at all times? At any other time would you let something that was inconsiderate or frustrating or sad be something that causes you guilt? If it is, I would please ask that you seek some counsel from a friend or a therapist. But if it isn’t, please reconsider your expectation at this time of year. Try silently acknowledging the feeling to yourself and then silently acknowledge their feelings. It might sound something like this, “It is alright that I am feeling frustrated and angry , just like it is alright for her to be feeling carefree.” Naming your feelings and naming their feelings reminds your hind-brain that feelings just are, and that they are not your whole self.

This blog post doesn’t cover everything by a long shot. And there are a million other blog posts available that might speak slightly closer to your situation. I encourage you to be compassionate towards yourself and your friends and family this holiday season as we all try to celebrate our communities.

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