It’s that time of year! The leaves are turning beautiful colors, the air is crisp and cold, pumpkin spice everything surrounds you… It’s time for THE HOLIDAYS.
For many, this time of year is one of excitement and joy, and for others the holidays are more of a somber time. For almost all of us, the holidays usually include more time spent with family in general, and especially with those we don’t see often. That can be wonderful….and painful.
So, how do we make the most of these family get-togethers? How do we avoid the pain of difficult relatives, or differing views? How do we turn our anxiety into excited anticipation? Right this way, dear readers…
How Are YOU?
The first and most important thing is to make sure YOU are OK! Family can be difficult in the best of times, but any sort of dip in our mental health makes dealing with family that much harder. So ask yourself, “How am I? What am I struggling with right now? What things ‘trigger’ my anxiety/depression/stress? What things bring me peace and joy?”
If you know you have a get-together coming up, spend some time in the days before for YOU. Maybe a little spa treatment, some time with a good book, a hot bath and a glass of wine…
Don’t ignore your physical health, easier. It’s much harder to deal with Aunt Lizzy’s prying questions if your body aches, you haven’t gotten enough sleep, and your indigestion from last week is STILL THERE. Drink water, sleep enough each night, and eat smart!
Plan For The Inevitable Questions
Are you pregnant? Going to be?
Who is that nice young man from Facebook?
How can you vote for HER?!
Did you HEAR what cousin Susie did last week?
What are you even doing with your life, anyway?
We’ve all hear variations of these questions, and more. Chances are, you are already dreading these questions, perhaps even specific ones you REALLY don’t want to talk about. So how do you deal with them?
Start by making a list of the questions you anticipate and dread – all of them – and rank them in order of how much you DON’T want to deal with them. Everything from “I can totally answer this with zero stress” to “I will literally rip my eyeballs out if even ONE more person THINKS about asking me this”. Now, take the worst questions and plan on how to 1. Decline to answer (yes, you are allowed to do this), 2. Answer with as little information as you are comfortable giving, and/or 3. Redirect or re-frame the question into something you ARE comfortable answering.
In general, try to direct the conversation where possible if you think it is heading to uncomfortable questions. People generally like to talk about themselves, so be sure to ask your relatives questions about themselves, too! Who knows, you might even find ways of connecting more than you anticipated.
Make A “Hell No” List
You know what I mean; the topics that make you want to get up from the table, walk out of the house, and drive away. We usually have a threshold for most topics, but when they go down certain paths we KNOW the conversation is going to get passionate and heated (and in some cases, mean and inconsiderate).
What are the topics that are hard to discuss with your family? Usually, those will be Religion, Politics, and perhaps other human rights issues that tend to fall under those discussion threads (abortion, LGBTQ topics, immigration, etc). Decide what level or parts of those topics you CAN and CAN’T engage in. Where do you go from “This is uncomfortable, but still good conversation” to “I can’t stand to listen to them about this any longer”? For example, perhaps you can discuss politics such as Presidential elections, Supreme Court nominees, etc., with only minor discomfort, but as soon as the #MeToo debate comes up, you start seeing red and can’t handle the heated discussion around you.
Now, take that list and go to the next step…
Set Boundaries And Rules
Yup. That’s right. You deserve to have boundaries and set rules even around your own family.
Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t easy to do (though it does get easier as you practice and your family becomes used to it). Boundaries and rules can help create a sort of bubble around you, one that only lets in that which is helpful, encouraging, and loving, while keeping all of the nagging, stressful, hurtful stuff. You will still be able to see it, perhaps even interact with it, but it’s contact with you is minimal.
Communicate your rules and boundaries with your family ahead of time. This might be best to do by starting with a few trusted family members you can be honest. Perhaps you can phrase it this way:
“All of the discussion around the immigration and refugees lately has really drained me; I’m just not up to talking about that when we all get together this weekend. Can you help keep that topic off the table?”
This is likely to be met with compassion and understanding by most, and will probably be passed on to other mature family members to help keep the topic to a minimum. Now, this is obviously not going to work 100% every single time, so be prepared to gently request the same thing mid-conversation as well, and have a different topic ready to bring up in it’s place. And remember that it’s OK to leave a conversation if the other person(s) isn’t respecting your request or it is causing to much anxiety.
Hang Out With The Cool Kids
And by Cool, I mean the people who will respect the boundaries and rules you’ve set. You probably have a pretty good idea heading into the holidays who those people will be; plan to spend most of your time with them. I’ve heard before that there are usually two types of relationships; those that primarily take your energy, and those that primarily give you energy. Neither relationship is bad or good, but it’s important you achieve balance with them. During holiday gatherings, don’t forget to spend time with those people who lift you up and give you energy.
I hope all of this is helpful! I am very blessed to be surrounded by wonderful family, though even they can be challenging at times. I know that many of you have quite a bit of anxiety and dread around family gatherings, and I hope you found something here to help. If any of you have other helpful insights, please comment below for myself and other readers!
One last thing – You have EVERY RIGHT to leave a situation where you are uncomfortable, are treated poorly, or don’t feel safe. No one’s feelings are worth staying in a situation like that. If you need a ride from a party, have a trusted friend on speed dial (or the taxi company).
Take such good care of yourself, and have a wonderful holiday season!