Driving up to a beautifully lit, snow-kissed house greeted at the door by a great big hug, watching the children joyously play with their presents, singing Christmas carols around the tree, and sipping hot cocoa by the fire. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? I thought so too when I saw it in a movie on the Hallmark channel. While that description paints a lovely picture, it’s not always how the holidays go. Sometimes, seeing our family for Christmas can be our biggest cause of stress but, it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few tips that a friend of mine, and by my friend, I mean me, use to get through the holidays.
1. Have Coping Skills in Your Back Pocket
I come from a huge family. I am one of 7 children and my 8th niece or nephew is going to be born any day now. Between the constant teasing from my siblings and the inevitable meltdowns that will come from the little ones not getting their way, my anxiety can get sky high. When that happens, I go upstairs, take a few deep breaths, and try to bring myself back to a positive place.
If you find yourself in a similar situation or being triggered, take a moment to yourself. Offer to take out the trash, say you need to get something out of your car, or go into a different room and do a quick meditation (The emergency one on the CALM app is my favorite). Even if you just need to sit and quietly count your blessings, it can bring you back to a more centered place and a happier state of mind.
2. Stick With The Ones That Build You Up
You know those sweet little grandmothers who give you lots of hugs and kisses and tell you how much they love you? I don’t have one of those. What I do have is a sassy, Polish, no-nonsense grandmother that likes to give out back-handed compliments. While I do love her, I wouldn’t say that I ALWAYS like her. To try and stay out of her line of fire, I don’t sit next to her at dinner. Instead, I sit next to one of my brothers and one of my uncles that I always laugh with. We have a million inside jokes, we put random food on each other’s plates while the other isn’t looking, and typically make plans to get together outside of the holidays. Being around them makes me appreciate the time I get to spend with family and, it makes me look forward to the next holiday. Moral of my story, do your best to not surround yourself by those that make you feel bad. If, like some of us, you are forced to be around that person always have someone from your positive support system that you can call if you need some uplifting.
3. Limit Your Time
Many people celebrate not only Christmas Day but, Christmas Eve as well. If two full days with family is just too much, condense it. Agree to go to one or the other. Also, you could plan to arrive just before dinner and exit when you feel the time is right. Just because a party lasts 8 hours doesn’t mean you have to be there the entire time. If you know your Uncle Joe likes to find someone to debate with right after dessert, grab a piece of cheesecake to go. This way, you can try to ensure that the time you were there was enjoyable. Your time should be about quality, not quantity and remember YOU come first.
4. Plan Something You Enjoy For When You Leave
Even before you arrive for the holiday chaos, make sure you have a plan in place and have something to look forward to directly after or the following day. Doing so will put you in a totally different headspace because, like any task, you want to do the hardest part first and the most enjoyable last.
I have a tradition every Christmas. I leave my mom’s house, come home and throw on my pj’s, make a cup of peppermint tea, plug in my Christmas tree, and I watch an old black and white movie called Holiday Inn. Even as I type this, I feel myself relaxing. After spending 2 days with 40+ relatives, having a little quiet time to myself is my way of practicing good self-care.
5. Make Your Own Plans
If your family is too chaotic and think my jeopardize your recovery or sanity, it’s time to create your own traditions. You don’t have to spend time with your family just because you have the same DNA. Your holiday is just that… YOURS! Take a trip to somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, plan to have a potluck Christmas with friends, go to the movies, or just veg out and take some time to decompress.
Now, there may be some initial guilt that your family will try to put on you for not spending time with them. The most important thing to remember is, no one who truly loves and cares about you would guilt you into anything that would cause you stress or suffering. If they are relentlessly guilting you about your decision, then the choice to stay away is probably a good one.
None of us are perfect and we don’t come from perfect families. For all we know, we may be the cause of chaos for some of our family members. You must remember, you are not in charge of anyone else’s happiness, only your own. So, if the thought of spending Christmas with your family is making you want to be Home Alone (insert cheesy movie reference), then just say yes to doing what you want!
Author: Lisa Musialowicz – Footprints to Recovery, Director of Alumni