The holidays can be a stressful and disruptive time, especially if you plan to visit family. Enjoying time with relatives is important to you, but you may dread being around a certain people, or being hounded or nagged. You don’t want this to ruin your celebration.
With family, there is no way you can completely avoid situations that make you feel upset or horribly awkward. But there are 8 ways to approach them with more of your calm and self-confidence intact.
1) Understand Your Body’s Role in the Stress Experience
Your body’s natural stress response is the first thing you must deal with before you even face a relative. Your body’s natural defense system will unleash an array of hormones to prepare your for fight or flight. Your heart will pound, and your stomach may do flip-flops as your digestive system shuts down. You may feel your knees tremble, your hands may turn cold, your jaw will set and your muscles will tense, even before you enter a situation that is trouble for you. Being able to keep a cool head when this happens is the first thing to do.
2) Calm Yourself First
You can expect to feel strong emotions when dealing with behavior or people who upset you. Prepare a mantra to steady your focus and prevent your feelings from taking over your mind. That’s what “Keep Calm and Carry On” is all about. Take a deep breath. Feel the tension in your neck and shoulders, and let it go and relax. This helps reset your metabolism for you to react calmly instead of getting swept into the craziness.
3) Choose How You Want to Act
If you don’t want to get into a yelling match, or you want to avoid an uncomfortable situation, decide to make it happen. Accept yourself and honor your own wishes. Accept your relatives the way they are too. You can’t change what other people say and do. But you can change your response, and you can choose your own actions. If you find yourself getting pushed to a breaking point, stop, take a breath, and find a way to buffer yourself from the situation.
4) Find Buffer Zones For Yourself
Sometimes you may really need 15 or 20 minutes away from everyone, in a quiet place to collect your thoughts. It’s okay to excuse yourself for some air, to run an errand, to walk the dog, or “go look in the car for something.”
Another option – bring some green tea or black tea. A cup of black tea can reduce the stress hormones in your system by 47%, according to a study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. You can even share it with another family member who may appreciate a quiet teatime.
Give yourself a job. You can bring favorite coffee beans and a grinder, or a snack to prepare, arrange artfully on a tray, and get busy making something to offer around when you’re ready.
5) Deflect the Negative with Something Positive
No matter what unwanted behavior comes your way, you can always bring something upbeat to the situation. Do you feel bad when a relative seems to ignore you? Do you wince when family members criticize each other? Do you cringe anticipating a big wet kiss from Grandma and the smothering hug? If you plan ahead,you can offer her outstretched arms some flowers or a small gift bag. Say “Great to see you too,Grandma. Hey look, I brought you a little something…” Or you can break the ice to warm up a relationship with a simple: “I wanted to share something from our town with you.”For every criticism you hear, you can make a positive remark or compliment.
6) Acknowledge Concerns
A family member may want to bring up an issue, and you may not want to go along. It’s okay if you don’t want to discuss an issue at a family gathering. Acknowledge the issue or the comment. Tell the relative that you’ve heard what he or she said. Offer another time to talk about it if it’s something you want to discuss later on.
You can say a phrase like: “This isn’t something I can get into during our visit – so let’s talk about it a few days after we’re back home.”
7) Enlist An Ally or Two
To avoid some tough spots, you may want to get help from a trusted relative or spouse. You may be able to anticipate a certain confrontation is likely. Your mom or dad may harp on an issue that’s a sore point. Your sibling may keep after you or your partner to help with something like setting up their computer. Or one of your relatives may be ready to latch on and talk your ear off. Work out a sign with your ally ahead of time that you’d like help out of trouble. One of you can then intervene: “So sorry to interrupt. Hey can I talk to you for a second?”
You can have a rule for the day: “You know, I told Pat not to fix anyone else’s computer until mine’s done.”
8) Choose Positive Experiences and an Attitude of Gratitude
Remember that you can respect each person, and be polite without having to actually get along with everyone. It’s okay to like whomever you like, and choose to spend more time with the people you feel most comfortable with.
Take time to look for the positive things happening around you, and be grateful for them. In the end, you’ll have a happier time and maybe even build some new fond memories of your visit with your family.
We are here for you at Mount Vernon Family Therapy in Alexandria, VA
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