One of the best ways to deal with stress at Christmas is to look at your family with different, wiser, more compassionate eyes. That’s what these tips for families are all about – and they don’t just apply to the Christmas holidays!
Before the tips, a quip:
“Family quarrels are bitter things. They don’t go by any rules. They’re not like aches or wounds; they’re more like splits in the skin that won’t heal because there’s not enough material.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Who are the splinters under your skin? One of the best ways to cope with those toxic relatives is to accept them for who they are. Stop wishing they were different. They are who they are, and so are you.
One of my favorite ways to deal with stress at Christmas is to watch movies like Parenthood! It’s one of my favorite movies about families because it describes the best and worst parts of family life. It’s bittersweet, just like real life.
Here are a few ways to cope with dysfunctional relatives at Christmas…
6 Ways to Deal With Stress at Christmas – Tips for Families
Figure out what you expect from your family at Christmas
Before the big family Christmas get together, make a list of your expectations. Dig deep: write down five or ten expectations you have of your family, Christmas Day, and yourself. What do you want to happen? What don’t you want to happen?
For instance, I want to have meaningful, real conversations with my family members about our lives, goals, dreams, and disappointments. I want to know them better, to really connect with them (it rarely happens). And I want them to be less negative, and more optimistic and accepting. To deal with my stress at Christmas, I need to realize that my expectations are setting me up for disappointment.
Let go of unrealistic expectations
Some of your expectations are probably reasonable, and some probably aren’t. For instance, it’s reasonable for me to expect to have a deep, meaningful conversation with at least one family member at Christmas! But it’s not realistic for me to expect them all to suddenly become optimistic, bubbling-over-with-joy peeps. Maybe you expect your family not to fight at Christmas…and maybe every year they do. Maybe you expect civility, not abuse.
Whatever your expectations, look at them as objectively as possible. Are you being realistic? Instead of holding on to unrealistic expectations, set new expectations that are based in reality. Sometimes dealing with stress at Christmas is about tweaking your own attitude.
Don’t expect your family members to change
There’s no point trying to get your relatives to see your perspective – especially if you’ve been having the same fights every Christmas! They are who they are. You are who you are. Neither of you is likely to make huge changes in your personality or life. Sometimes the root of chronic family problems is the wish that things were different.
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Instead of yearning for what isn’t, focus on accepting and dealing with your relatives the way are they right now.
Step away from the table
My husband and I spend Christmas at his parents’ house every year. I’ve never noticed any major family fights or tensions – but there is a tendency towards negativity, cynicism, and complaining. Maybe a few judgments, here and there.
The most effective way for me to deal with stress at Christmas is to walk away. There are plenty of rooms in the house; I can go anywhere I please! Maybe your relatives can’t avoid family fights — but you can.
Focus on what you can control
You can control your thoughts, your words, and the amount of time you spend with your family. Change the things you have control over, such as long you spend talking to a certain relative. Even knowing you have control over the littlest things can make a difference! Your family problems may never change, but you can empower yourself in different ways.
For instance, if you have an alcoholic sibling, you can join an Al-Anon support group or call a hotline if things are particularly bad. Family fights and toxic relatives are stressful at Christmas – there’s no doubt about it – but you can reduce the stress by controlling your own attitude and actions.
Put yourself in your family members’ shoes
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey encourages us to seek first to understand, then to be understood. I know how hard this is when you have difficult parents or toxic family members! My father left when I was three years old, and never called or wrote. I’ve forgiven him – and it really helped to put myself in his shoes and see his actions from his perspective (which he explained to me after I caught up with him, as an adult). When I see his behavior through his eyes, I see him as a human being, a man who made mistakes and did the best he could.
Don’t stop here! Read How to Cope With Difficult Parents.
Need marriage help? Get free relationship advice from Marriage Coach Mort Fertel.
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