No Drama Holiday: 10 Tips for Avoiding Emotional Family Traps
The holidays are meant to be a happy season—a time when family and friends come together to celebrate and reflect on the year.
For many people, however, the holidays can spark feelings of anxiety, disenchantment, and even dread. Instead of relishing time with family, the season reminds them of unhappy memories, financial obligations, run-ins with dysfunctional relatives, and old family traditions that no longer bring joy. While the holidays are meant to serve as more of a time for rest and relaxation, many would argue they’re often the opposite.
You can’t control other people or events. However, with some focused awareness you can consciously choose to respond rather than react. Mahatma Gandhi once suggested that we “be the change we wish to see in this world.” Taking responsibility for how you interpret and navigate your experiences is the first step in successfully managing any tumultuous circumstance.
Try one—or all—of these 10 tips to have a more peaceful, drama-free holiday, including what to do when events spiral out of control.
Spend Time Outdoors in Nature
Spending time outdoors in nature can help enhance mental clarity, energize your mind and body, and connect you to your loved ones as well as the environment. Schedule some outdoor time with family members during holiday get-togethers. Take an early morning jog through the park, an afternoon hike through the mountains, or an evening stroll around a lake. Throwing a football, making snow angels, or ice-skating are a few outdoor activities that can interrupt the mental agitation that creeps in during a long holiday weekend with family.
Commit to Keeping it Positive
Go into each gathering or interaction with a positive and loving intention. It’s easier to maintain a positive attitude when you arrive in that mental state.
Perhaps you’ve encountered the perennial pessimist, who floats around family gatherings leaching negativity into every conversation. You’re not going to change that person’s behavior. Your mindset and how you approach the situation will have an overall ripple effect on the environment that you’re in.
A positive attitude can make interactions more pleasant; it can change the energy of a room immediately and has the power to inspire and empower those around you to do the same. Envision only what you would like to see happen in a given situation as opposed to what you don’t want to happen. Try to commit to keeping the conversation and mood light and positive.
Allow Yourself to Disengage
At some point during the holidays, a friend, family member or houseguest might become increasingly negative. Perhaps the biggest pitfall of being around negative people is our propensity to react to the situation by arguing or defending ourselves. Sometimes the best response is a non-response. It’s OK to walk away when a situation warrants some separation. By giving yourself permission to quietly remove yourself from the equation, you’re able to maintain your personal boundaries and safeguard your energy.
Plan Fun Indoor Activities You Can Enjoy Together
Doing activities together is a great way to bond and it also invites opportunities to make deeper emotional connections with those you love. Laughter is medicine. Make popcorn and watch comedies together to bring an air of lightheartedness into your time together. Baking and decorating holiday cookies can be a creative way to interact, and playing board games or Charades can help encourage group participation.
Have a Plan to Navigate Anticipated Pitfalls
You always have a choice in how you respond. If you know you’re entering a scenario that has repeatedly proven challenging with a family member, try to identify how you might be able to respond differently than you have in the past.
For example, if you know that your mother-in-law wants to plan every moment of the holiday vacation and you prefer to be spontaneous, address it in advance so that everyone is clear prior to arriving. If you hate sports and your family wants to gather around the flat screen watching football on Thanksgiving Day, make a plan to take yourself out shopping, go for a walk, visit with a friend who lives nearby, or take in a movie. It’s OK to say no to some activities that will later leave you feeling overwhelmed or resentful. After all, this is your holiday too.
Inspire Fun Conversation
Get some creative conversation going. Go around the dessert table and invite each person to share their favorite memory from the past year or their intention for being together for the holidays. Ask people what inspires them or who their favorite family member is—and why. A lighthearted and focused conversation that everyone can participate in helps keep the experience positive and can also create fun and lasting memories.
Take Time in Stillness and Silence
Meditation is always a good way to return to your peaceful center, yet we often neglect our spiritual practices when we’ve stepped out of our usual routine. A consistent meditation practice sets you up for success in dealing with life’s most challenging obstacles and encounters. The holidays are no exception.
Be sure to take a few moments at the beginning of each day to sit in stillness and silence to get connected to your center. Done consistently, meditation will help you to see circumstances and events from a different perspective, and you’ll begin to feel less triggered by annoyances.
Be at Peace with Uncertainty and Imperfection
The holidays can be full of stress, guilt, and feelings of obligation. The pressure for the day to go smoothly, meals to be perfectly timed, and for everyone to get along adds undue stress to a gathering of family and friends. The holidays don’t have to be perfect.
Allow the day or event to unfold naturally and find the gifts in each moment along the way.
Take Time for Yourself
The holidays can be a time when we put everyone else’s needs first. It’s easy to lose yourself in the chaos of the season. You must first tend to your own needs if you hope to accomplish everything on your holiday to-do list.
Take some time to reflect on what practices you do to keep you balanced and peaceful throughout the year and make sure to adhere to them when things get crazy. If you’re feeling triggered, it can help to talk to a trusted friend or use a self-soothing technique that helps you ride the wave of emotion to its end. Go for a walk outside, drink a cup of hot tea, take a bath by candlelight, enjoy time with a pet, do yoga, or spend time in meditation or prayer.
Always Come Back to Love
The late Dr. David Simon said that the purpose of life is to love more and be happy. Remember that everyone wants to feel like they are seen, appreciated, and part of the family. Yet, not everyone knows how to express themselves in positive ways and that can create high levels of discomfort for others.
If you find yourself in a less-than-desirable situation or circumstance, stop and take a deep breath. Observe how you’re feeling in that moment, and ask yourself to return to love before opening your eyes and proceeding. Even those few moments of inward focus and deep breathing can be enough of a reset for you to calm down and handle the situation with greater ease.
It is possible to beat back holiday stress—or avoid it altogether—by anticipating your triggers and approaching events or interactions with friends and family members with peace and love in your heart.