By: Emily Tonn, RMHCI
During the holidays, most of us find ourselves immersed in the balancing act of enjoying the holidays to the fullest, meeting the expectations of family and friends, and managing the overall stress and anxiety that can come with hosting and attending multiple events.
A common stressor during this season is dealing with challenging family members. Throughout the year it is easier to set boundaries with these individuals. However, during the holidays, we often participate in family gatherings where these stressful interactions are inevitable. Here are some tips and strategies for dealing with challenging family members that you might find helpful this holiday season:
- Understand that you can’t change them. The most important aspect of managing personal stress or anxiety, involving the people in our lives, is to acknowledge that we cannot control their actions. This fact alone can be extremely frustrating. We can however, control our responses to those actions.
- Think about how you want to behave. This is most likely not the first time you have spent time with this person, so you are already more prepared than you might think.
- Before heading to your event, take some time to mentally prepare yourself by thinking of the actions of others that may typically trigger you anxiety, and decide how you will choose to behave in the situation.
- Manage conflict, don’t participate in it. Managing conflict is much different than avoiding it. Managing conflict puts the power and control in your hands. When faced with the challenging behaviors of others, it is easy to get drawn in. Consciously acknowledge that this moment in time will pass and focus on enjoying aspects of the experience the way you want to remember it.
- Set reasonable expectations. Our expectations can often be our worst enemy. Any expectation that involves another person’s behavior can be dangerous. Focus on setting reasonable expectations for time with loved ones, and if something does not go as planned, tell yourself that it is “ok”.
- Protect your experience. Think of your experience, personal happiness and joy as a prized possession. You wouldn’t leave a family heirloom unprotected in fear that it would be stolen. Likewise, don’t let another person rob you of your happiness and enjoyment.
- Don’t compare your family to others. No family is perfect! After all, every family has their own challenges.
This holiday season, remember that we create our own experiences. Envision the experience that you want to have and focus on being mindful throughout this special time.