With the holiday season comes lots of family together time, and there’s a big chance you may want to run and hide. While part of you looks forward to catching up with mom and dad, the other part doesn’t want to deal with the usual lectures. You need to find a new job. When are you getting married? Are you watching your weight? It comes from a place of love, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating for you. Family get-togethers can raise the blood pressure, but there are plenty of things you can do to lower your anxiety and still be joyful.
As you prepare for the holidays, make a list of all of life’s joys. Write down each and everything you have to be grateful for. Preparing this gratitude list will help you understand that there’s always something for which you can be thankful. Focusing on your blessings can shift your mindset from negative thinking to positive thinking. And over time, being thankful will help you see the world as a kinder, gentler place. This also means seeing more goodness in your family.
When the time arrives and you’re all together, there are some things you can do to relieve tension, not just for you, but for everyone.
Share positive. Focus on keeping conversations positive by leading the way. Start by sharing a few compliments. Tell your brother’s wife how beautiful she looks or your mom how delicious dinner was. Other ways to share positive include telling feel-good stories you’ve heard or read about in the news or talking about how great things are at work. Don’t sit down to the dinner table and talk about how much you dislike your boss.
Listen and ask questions. One of the best ways you can show someone you care is by listening intently. Don’t half listen, instead make eye contact to let them know that you’re actively hearing what they’re saying. And if your brother in law is doing a lot of listening without sharing, ask him a question. This shows him that you’re actually interested about what’s going on in his life.
Avoid triggers. If you know your dad is irritated with the election outcome, don’t bring it up. Anything that leads to easy disagreements like politics, sports, and religion are best to avoid. If someone does go there, find a way to redirect the conversation.
Bring your humor. Who knew that your funny bone has short and long-term health consequences? According to Mayo Clinic, a good laugh can stimulate organ health, activate your stress response, and alleviate tension. Long-term benefits include relieving pain, boosting your immune system, and improving your mood and personal satisfaction. So bring a funny board game, be prepared with a few good jokes, or suggest watching a great holiday comedy.
For Recovery Survivors
If the stress of the season is complicated because you’re in addiction recovery, you’ll need to have a special game plan.
Appoint a family buddy. Chose a family member that supports your addiction recovery, and ask for them to be your support system during get togethers. This way, if tensions run high, you have someone to bring you back to your peaceful place.
Rehearse how you’ll handle sobriety busters. When your Aunt Maxine is on her sixth drink and she’s trying to push one on you, have a script in mind that you’ve planned to deliver. Maybe it’s that you’re watching your weight or health, or maybe it’s a blunt, “I don’t drink.” Decide ahead how you’ll say no.
Have an exit strategy. Even though it’s family, you’re not obligated to stay if things turn too stressful. Pass around hugs, say your goodbyes and head for safe place. Don’t let a tense situation be the trigger that puts your sobriety pledge in jeopardy.
Family time can mean stress, and holiday time can mean stress, but you control your own holiday destiny. Lower your expectations, allow for more flexibility, and find the good in your loved ones. And remember, they aren’t perfect, and you aren’t either, so embrace the imperfections. After all, “families are like fudge … mostly sweet, with lots of nuts!”
Jennifer Scott is an advocate for opening up about mental health. She shares stories about the ups and downs of her anxiety and depression at SpiritFinder.