Holidays can be tough. Some people love them; some people dread them.
I thought a lot about the holidays as I was writing Happier at Home, because the holiday season tends to be a time when we focus on home. Maybe you’re going “home” the way I go home to Kansas City for Christmas–which may be fun for you, or not. Maybe you’re deciding how to decorate your home. Maybe you’re making an effort to arrange the holidays the way you experienced them as a child–or the opposite. Maybe you’re feeling sad, or happy, about whom you will or won’t be seeing.
From talking to people, it seems that one of the biggest happiness challenges of the holidays is dealing with difficult relatives. You want to have a nice dinner, but Uncle Bobby makes you crazy. What to do?
1. Ahead of time, spend a few minutes thinking about how you want to behave. If you’ve had unpleasant experiences in the past, think about why they were unpleasant and what you could do to change the dynamics of the situation. Get more sleep. Give yourself more travel time. Pick a seat far away from Uncle Bobby. In particular…
2. Think about how topics that seem innocuous to you might upset someone else. You may think you’re showing a polite interest, but some questions will rub a person the wrong way: “So do you have a girlfriend yet?” “When are you two going to get married/start a family?” “Didn’t you give up smoking?” “Can you afford that?” “When are you going to get a real job?” Show an interest with more open-ended questions, like “What are you up to these days?” or “What’s keeping you busy?” Also…
3. Dodge strife. Some families enjoy arguing passionately amongst themselves; however, most don’t handle arguments very well. If you know Uncle Bobby’s views are going to drive you crazy, don’t bring up the subject! And if he brings it up, you don’t have to engage. Try to make a joke of it, and say something like, “Let’s agree to disagree,” “Let’s not talk about that, and give the rest of the family something to be thankful for,” etc.
4. Don’t drink much alcohol. It can seem festive and fun to fill up your glass, but it’s easy to lose track of how much you’re drinking. Alcohol makes some people feel merry, but it also makes some people feel combative, or self-pitying, or lowers their inhibitions in a destructive way. I basically had to give up drinking because alcohol makes me so belligerent. And if other people seem to be trying to avoid or curb their drinking (or their eating, for that matter), don’t make a big deal of it or urge them to indulge. In my study of habits for Better Than Before, it became clear to me that many people become very uneasy when they feel out of step with what others are doing, and that makes it tough for them to stick to a good habit. Don't make someone feel conspicuous or strange in what they're doing.
5. As best you can, play your part in the tradition. For some people, traditions are very, very important; for others, no. You may feel irritated by your brother’s insistence on having exactly the same food every Thanksgiving, or by your mother’s extreme reaction to your suggestion to eat dinner an hour earlier. Try to be patient and play your part. In the long run, traditions and rituals tend to help sustain happiness and family bonds. On the other hand…
6. If you’re the one who wants everything to be perfect, try to ease up on yourself and everyone else, so you can enjoy the day, whatever happens. Even if the day isn’t exactly the way you hoped it would be, try to enjoy what it is. My mother once told me, “The things that go wrong often make the best memories,” and it’s really true. And too much fussing to make an experience “perfect” can sometime ruin it altogether.
7. Find some fun. One of my Secrets of Adulthood is Just because something is fun for someone else doesn’t mean it’s fun for you, and vice versa. If the time with your relatives is meant to be fun, make sure you’re spending at least some time doing something that’s fun for you. Working in the kitchen, playing touch football, sitting around talking, running errands, watching the parade on TV—these things may or may not be fun for you, no matter how the rest of the family feels.
8. Find reasons to be grateful. Be thankful that you get to cook, or that you don’t have to cook. Be thankful that you get to travel, or that you don’t have to travel. Be thankful for your family or your friends. Be grateful for electricity and running water. Find something. Studies show that gratitude is a major happiness booster. Also, feeling grateful toward someone crowds out emotions like resentment and annoyance.
Wait, you might be thinking, these strategies don’t tell me how to deal with my difficult relatives—they tell me how to behave myself. Well, guess what! You can’t change what your difficult relatives are going to do; you can only change yourself. But when you change, a relationship changes.
by Cindy Ricardo, LMHC, CIRT, Mindfulness Based Approaches/Contemplative Approaches Topic Expert Contributor
“Stressed souls need the reassuring rhythm of self-nurturing rituals.” --Sarah Ban Breathnach
Do you find yourself doing things for others, with little or no time for yourself? Do you walk around feeling stressed out and irritable? Is there little room for joy, gratitude, and peace in your life?
If you feel like an electrical outlet on its way to burnout, it’s time to look at how and where you’re spending your energy.
Signs that you are in need of self-care:
Let’s face it: If you don’t take care of yourself, who will? Neglecting yourself to meet others’ needs can negatively impact your physical, emotional, and mental health. For example, not getting enough rest or a good night’s sleep can result in feelings of exhaustion, difficulty concentrating, increased anxiety, and irritability. Over time, the stress might settle in your shoulders, neck, and back, creating physical pain like backaches or headaches. Your appetite could be affected, leading you to eat too much—seeking to tame anxiety by eating more—or too little—under stress, the brain releases a lot more acid, which can lead to feelings of nausea or heartburn. Living with a high level of stress could lead to high blood pressure or other heart conditions. The reality is that your body is like a car: if you don’t take good care of it, it will break down!
Emotional stress is often linked to stressful thoughts. This combination can have a detrimental effect on your level of energy, mental clarity, and emotions. Years ago, a family relative was stressed and overwhelmed by the things that were happening in her life. Her mother was ill and in need of personal care. She was also going through a divorce, on an emotional rollercoaster, and walked around with a constant headache. As a result of these factors, she was overwhelmed and her ability to focus and perform at work was seriously affected. Pressure was mounting, and something was bound to happen.
One morning, she was driving. She was so overwhelmed by emotions and thoughts that she didn’t notice a red light and ended up getting into an accident. Thankfully, she wasn’t seriously injured. Emotionally, however, it was a wake-up call for her to shift perspective and identify ways to create balance in her life by attending to her needs.
Lack of self-care can lead to anger and resentment. Putting your needs last on the list creates feelings of resentment and anger and can hurt close relationships. You may feel as if others are taking advantage of you or taking you for granted. You may be angry with yourself for not setting boundaries and being assertive. Mentally berating yourself or others doesn’t help. What helps is learning how to value yourself just as much as you value others. This can be a challenging task!
There are many reasons you may have a hard time practicing self-care:
Reflect on ways to incorporate self-care into your daily routine by reviewing the following list:
When you become still enough to connect with what is going on in your body, mind, and heart, you take the first step toward self-care. It is in that moment, when you identify needs and make time to nurture yourself, that you open the door to balance and life.
May you have moments of peace.
© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Cindy Ricardo, LMHC, CIRT, therapist in Coral Springs, Florida
I write articles based on my experience as a therapist or a training or conference attendee. Many of these articles are written by others who are experts in their field and I share their information as resources for others.