Family Dynamics during the Holidays: How to Cope

The winter holidays can be the most joyful or the most stressful time of the year, depending on your family dynamics. It starts with Thanksgiving and goes on through New Year’s, making pit stops at Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Kwanzaa, the winter solstice, Festivus, and any other winter holiday you might celebrate.

This time of year can be really hard to dodge your pushy brother-in-law (No, I absolutely do not want to invest in your new business) or annoying aunt (“honey, you look like maybe you’ve put on a few pounds?”).

Follow these tips to help cope with the potential pitfalls of family dynamics during the holidays. 

  1. Control what you can.
    You may not be able to control how the other person will act (wouldn’t that be nice?), so try to control how you react to him or her. It sounds simple, but breathing deeply can work wonders. Kathy Gruver, author of Conquer Your Stress with Mind/Body Techniques, suggests mini meditations in which you focus on breathing in and out as a way to stop the stress. “It may not make the crazy drunk uncle behave himself, but it makes you handle it better,” she says. If possible, put distance between yourself and the problem person. Sit far away from that person at the dinner table or simply spend time in some other part of the house talking with the family members whose company you enjoy. Maybe even toss a football around with the kids!

  2. Invite an outsider.
    Having non-family members at a family event encourages people to act their best—or at least better. Invite a friend who might otherwise spend the holiday alone or, if you have a military base or senior home nearby, offer to host a young soldier or senior citizen for a holiday meal.

  3. Take care of yourself.
    Follow your normal meals/exercise/ sleep routine. It will help you handle the stress of a family get-together and help you resist Aunt Martha’s plea to “eat more cookies. I baked them just for you because I know they are your favorites!” There are plenty of ways to cut calories during the holidays!

  4. Try to say “no.”
    It’s ok to say “no.” Vice versa, it’s ok to say “yes”! If you haven’t been invited to a holiday party, know that it doesn’t mean you have to stay home alone. Offer to feed people at a soup kitchen, volunteer to hand out gifts at an orphanage or invite someone to your house for a quiet cup of coffee and a friendly chat.

Don’t let your mental health suffer. If the stress of the holidays is leaving you feeling out of sorts and down, talk to your doctor about whether counseling and/or medication might help.

What’s your go-to weapon for de-stressing during the holidays?

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