Surviving the Holidays with Your Family

When you go home this holiday season, you’re sure to encounter the regular cast of characters around your family’s table. Maybe it’s your grandmother’s incisive questioning about your dating life-- you know, “Are you still single?” Or maybe it’s your mother’s constant comparing of your professional achievements to your older sister-- “When are YOU going to grad school?” or “Why can’t you be more like her?” Or perhaps it’s your uncle’s tendency to drink too much and make hurtful off-handed jokes.

Whether it’s these or other issues, visiting family for the holidays can be incredibly stressful. When we’re thrust back into our families of origin, old hurts can get triggered, old wounds can be reopened. We can feel vulnerable, defenseless, angry-- which is a far cry from the holiday cheer we want to feel this season!

The good news is that we’re not powerless. In fact, there are a number of tried-and-true strategies we can employ to protect ourselves and get through the holidays unscathed -- and hopefully, even have a little holiday joy!

Here are my top five:

1. Set your expectations appropriately. This is, undoubtedly, the most important tip. When we anticipate that our family members will behave as they always have, we are less surprised when it happens. Don’t expect them to change that much; be pleasantly surprised if they do.

2. Plan your responses. Before you go home, think about how you’d like to answer those questions from your grandmother about your dating life. It’s okay to set boundaries. Give a short and sweet answer-- and then change the subject! Ask her about her. Chat about a great movie you saw recently or a book you’re reading. With a little forethought, you can set yourself up to protect yourself from others’ criticism-- and behave in ways that you’re proud of.

3. Structure your time. Long periods of unstructured time at home with family can be crazy-making. Find out what activities are happening locally that you can take advantage of. Grab a high school buddy and check out a wine tasting at a local shop, a movie, or a play. Though your mother might disapprove of you skipping out on an hour of family time, she’ll appreciate how much happier you are when you come back!

4. Plan a workout. I can’t stress this one enough. Exercise is a natural anti-depressant, pumping our brains with feel-good chemicals not only during our workout, but for hours after. Use services like Classpass to find out what fitness classes might be available in your hometown, like spin, yoga, or boxing. Or, just leash up the family dog and go for a walk. Either way, you’ll be glad you did.

5. Phone a Friend. Before you leave for your trip, identify a friend who you can talk openly with about how you’re feeling. Ask that person if it’s okay if you can call if you need to talk over the holidays. Most people would feel honored by a request like that-- so chances are, your friend will say yes. Even just knowing that you’ve got someone who understands you can help you survive unsavory situations. And if you don’t end up calling while you’re away, find a time to talk when you’re back, just to debrief.

Give these tips a try and let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear your feedback on these or other strategies you use to survive the holidays.

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Holidays, FamilyRena Staub Fisher