Families and the Holidays

by Nov 16, 2015

By Nina Tracy 

With the holiday season quickly approaching it is a good time to do a little refresher on how to handle the stressors that sometimes arise for people during this time of year.  Whether you are hosting family at your house, traveling to the home of a family member, or unable to travel to be with family due to distance, finances, or any other reason, it can be a very chaotic time of year.  While the holidays are often full of happiness, cheer, and good intentions, they can sometimes also be accompanied by less invited feelings that are not always easy to deal with.  I hope that this post may give you a few tools to carry with you if things start to get stressful or overwhelming.

If you are traveling out of town or just down the street to another person’s home there are unique benefits and stressors to this.  On the one hand, you don’t have to worry about cleaning up or straightening up your home before people come and after people go.  Most likely you aren’t expected to cook the whole meal or provide the entertainment for the guests. However, you do have to drive, fly, or get to your location by some other means of transportation.  For some people being away from home can produce anxiety because home is comforting.  Maybe you have the added stress on your wallet.  In other cases, it could be hard to decide where you will be traveling to because of extended family or you may be traveling to multiple places and seeing multiple families.

Having people to your home over the holidays can be very rewarding but also carries unique stressors.  You may be expected to cook all or most of a big meal.  For many this is a very exciting and wanted task, however, for some it can be a time that causes anxiety due to fear of judgment on what is cooked or how your home appears.  Having people in “your space” can be really nice for a time but then can become problematic if the guests overstay their welcome. You also have the added task of cleaning up once the guests go home.  (It isn’t rude to ask for help! After all, if your guests wanted full maid service they should have stayed at a hotel.)

For some, it isn’t possible to be with loved ones for the holidays. For example, it may be that you can’t take the days off of work, you may live too far away and it may be too expensive. This can bring up feelings of sadness and loneliness.  On the other hand, you may be choosing not to spend time with others for whatever reason, and this can be a stress inducer or relief in itself. 

With all of the “should” and “should nots” of the holiday season, it is important to remember what is important for you and those around you rather than trying to fit a mold or standard set by others.  Regardless of where you will be during the holidays, here are a few tips to help you with self care so that you can try to make the best of whatever and wherever you will be during the holidays! 

*Don’t be afraid to set boundaries for yourself.
If being around your family for hours and days at a time is an overwhelming thought, set some time for yourself.  This will help to ensure that the time you do spend together is more pleasant than forcing yourself to be around them constantly which can lead to stress building up and impact people’s moods.  Sometimes it can be helpful to take a little “time out” from being around the crowd, make it a point to do something of your choosing for a bit each day.

*Have a safety blanket.
This doesn’t need to be an actual blanket (although it could be!) but have something with you that can help to bring you a sense of calm or ease.  It could be something small like a worry stone.  Have it readily available so that you can access it if you start to feel stress, anxiety, or any sort of emotional discomfort.

*Take deep breaths.
There are some great apps that are available to help guide you through deep breathing exercises. You can also just simply do a self guided short deep breathing exercise.  Take a breath in slowly for 5 seconds, hold it for 1 second, and then slowly let it out for another 5 seconds. Repeat a few times and help slow down whatever is happening.

*Make a plan.
Sometimes around the holidays things can get hectic with so many people and things to try to accommodate.  Making a plan can help reduce your stress.  Even if the plan isn’t followed exactly it can work as an outline to keep things from getting out of hand.  Plan a few activities for each day, or schedule in those “time outs” for yourself.

*Don’t forget to communicate.
Be honest and communicate.  Often tension, anxiety, and stress arise when we don’t communicate with those around us.  If you need help, ask for it.  If you need space, ask for it. Being honest and communicating, if done in a non-aggressive way and using “I” statements, can help to avoid added stress and tension.  For example, instead of saying “I am leaving, you all are driving me crazy!” try “I am feeling a little overwhelmed right now, I am going to take a little time for myself”.

*Set Up Video Chat
If you are unable to be with family or friends, set up a video chat so that you can virtually be at the meal or spend time with them at some point during the get together.

Robin S. Smith, MS, LCMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in clinical practice in Bethesda MD, and specializes in relationship issues for couples, families, and individuals, for improved quality of life. His clinical specialties include: transition to parenthood for new and expecting parents, infidelity, sex and intimacy issues, premarital counseling, and trauma. Robin has given talks to various groups including hospital administrators, graduate students, therapists, and child birth educators. He is the primary contributor to The Couple and Family Clinic Blog.

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