The holiday season is supposed to be a time for laughter and relaxation. However, for many of us, it causes more stress. During the festive season, we are often forced to spend time with relatives that we might usually choose to avoid. This doesn’t make life easy and can have some pretty negative effects. For most of us, myself included, there is always someone around the table that has to cause drama and conflict. But how can you handle it like a pro?
Get to the core of the issue; what causes you stress?
The most important thing to know is what’s causing the stress. Once you pin down the cause of the stress, you’ll likely be able to deal with it more effectively. For most of us, Ken Duckworth, MD, tells Web MD that stress tends to be due to the following
- Problematic Relatives: There’s always that one relative that you really struggle with. For the rest of the year, they’re more easily avoided. But over
the festive season, they always seem to pop up and cause excess stress. The relative in question might just be a difficult person, they might have completely opposite views to you or just be plain nasty.
- Bad memories: For many people, returning to the place where they grew up causes more pain and suffering. Instead of being a time for happy nostalgia, there might be a negative association. This is particularly the case for people who had negative holiday season experiences when they were young.
- Change: The holidays seem to have an amazing way of highlighting change. That change might be either good or bad. Either way, as humans, we struggle with change and don’t tend to deal with it very well.
How to control your stress levels
Essentially, if you know you’re going to be stressed, it’s all about the management of those feelings. You don’t want them to become toxic for you as too much stress can ultimately make you ill. One of the major issues with holidays like Christmas, according to Web MD, is that people tend to feel out of control. For the bulk of the year, we get to decide what to do and when to do it. But with the festive season, come holiday traditions that seem impossible to get out of or simply say no to. Ultimately, most experts recommend taking back that control.
There’s a lot of things around the festive season that we feel we can’t break free from. We have a tendency to feel overwhelmed because it’s viewed as an obligation. Duckworth, recommends stopping for a second and questioning why you have to do it.
To figure out whether you should put your foot down and say no or agree, Duckworth, recommends making a list of pros and cons for ‘traditions’. This should give you an idea of why it makes you unhappy and that’ll allow you to figure out whether you want to go into that situation or not.
It is also a good idea to analyze the traditions and think about what would happen if you didn’t engage with them. What if you didn’t go to the traditional family drinks party the weekend before Christmas Eve?
Your first thought is likely to be that it’ll cause irreversible damage and be a complete disaster. But honestly, that’s unlikely, especially if you decline nicely. After all, you could always make it up to the people you won’t see (if you want to) with a casual coffee. We tend to do things for the sake of tradition unconsciously. If you are more conscious about the decisions you make, you’re likely to feel more in control and avoid that feeling of overwhelming.
Be prepared for some conflict or just say no
Whenever there is a group of people, there is bound to be some level of conflict. It might be minimal (if you’re lucky) but it might also be extremely problematic and aggravating. It’s important not to expect any huge behavior changes from people. If you know that one uncle is going to be there who makes problematic jokes be prepared for it and expect it. Unfortunate as it may be, people don’t change, and expecting different behaviors or actions will only leave you feeling let down and potentially, more annoyed.
Alternatively, if being around your family causes you severe stress, you can always just say no. Sometimes, it’s better to have a smaller celebration with close friends or just close family rather than trying to get along with relatives you would ordinarily never see. It doesn’t matter that it’s the festive season, if you feel like you can’t deal with the pressure or conflict, you can just refuse.
The other option is to say no to any ‘unnecessary’ gatherings that inevitably surround the holiday season. Instead, you could choose to only see family for lunch on Christmas Day but decline other invitations.
Some tips for stopping the stress in its tracks
Avoid doing things that you know make you miserable: If every year, you end up in the same situation and feeling overwhelmed by stress, it might be time for a change. Don’t just go with it ‘because it’s the holiday season’. Instead, if you feel that you aren’t coping, consider an open conversation that might allow for a change in tradition. For instance, if it’s the thought of hosting your entire family, discuss going out instead.
Take time for yourself: This might be about getting away from everyone else to go for a walk or doing another solo activity like reading a book or listening to music or a podcast. If you do attend a family gathering, opt to keep it to just a couple of hours instead of staying the whole night.
Don’t try to make things perfect: It can often feel as if our family is the only one with issues. Because of this, you tend to put even more pressure on the holidays and try to force perfection. There is no such thing as a perfect family. All of us have our own issues and putting too much pressure on a day to be perfect will likely result in everything going sideways and you feeling even tenser and stressed.