The holidays are all about togetherness, family, and celebrating love…in theory. In reality, the obligatory family-time saturating the holiday atmosphere is a source of stress for a lot of people. With family comes the complicated shared histories—and it’s usually a mixed bag of hilarity, glory days, tragedy, and guilt. It can't be a coincidence that National Stress Awareness Day is in November.
For me, the holidays of my childhood (and some of my adulthood) were spent riding a swinging pendulum between magic and chaos. There were always idyllic hot cocoa-swilling moments in front of fireplaces, and then there were moments spent in traffic while my mom begrudgingly drove my sister and me to the airport to see our father when it was his year to have us on Christmas.
Death, divorce, betrayal—these elephants in the room don’t take a break just because it’s time to carve the turkey. We often have unrealistic expectations of how the holiday season will cast an evaporating spell on the underlying tensions. While we might be lucky enough to catch a brief respite from bickering, or even witness the burying of a hatchet or two, garland and Burl Ives can only get you so far. We still carry all the same baggage, no matter how much those ugly Christmas sweaters temporarily disguise it.
So how are we supposed to cope with family-induced holiday stress?
There’s no magic bullet. But here are 7 survival tips for riding the roller coaster from Thanksgiving to New Year’s:
Relish in the little joys. Appreciating a happy moment can ward off the negative trains of thought that can derail your mood.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. It’s okay to say no to an obligation that’s only going to make you resentful or overwhelmed. You’re allowed to have down time, and enjoy it too. Even during the holidays.
Try hard to let go of perfection (said the person with OCD who needs to take her own advice). If the turkey is a little dry, and the tablecloth isn’t ironed, but everyone’s laughing, who cares?
If your family is volatile, but you still feel obligated to get together for the holidays, try having Thanksgiving or Christmas at a restaurant instead. A public place might put people on their best behavior. If a restaurant isn’t an option, invite friends who aren’t able to be with their own families. Having a mix of “insiders” and “outsiders” creates a buffer, curbs bad behavior, inspires better conversation, and dare I say it, holiday cheer.
If gift-giving is stressful, ask your family if they’d be open to drawing names. Everyone puts their names into a hat and everyone picks just one name. One gift instead of many? Less stress for sure. And you’ll probably give, and receive, better gifts.
Make time for what makes you happy. If you have a group of friends whose company you enjoy, make sure to spend time with them during the holidays. You need to laugh!
Finally, don’t ignore what you need to do to stay healthy. Nothing throws the spotlight on stress and family drama more than getting sick while you’re trying to make everyone else happy. Get enough sleep, try to step outside into the sunlight (and take some extra vitamin D while you’re at it), exercise, and eat healthy foods to counteract the cheesecake and apple pie.
Happy Holidays and good luck to us all!
Have a crazy holiday family story or a stress tip to help us all avoid the drama? Please share in the comments!
Some other great advice on dysfunctional family holidays: