Family Dynamics during the Holidays: How to Cope

The winter holidays can be the most joyful or the most stressful time of the year, depending on your family dynamics. It starts with Thanksgiving and goes on through New Year’s, making pit stops at Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Kwanzaa, the winter solstice, Festivus, and any other winter holiday you might celebrate.
Family Dynamics During the Holidays

It’s the time of the year when it can be really hard to dodge your bad-tempered brother-in-law (No, I don’t want to invest in your new business) or annoying aunt (“honey, have you put on a few pounds?”).

These tips will help you cope with the potential pitfalls of family dynamics during the holidays.

  1. Control what you can.
    Since you can’t control how the other person will act, try to control how you react to him or her. Breathe deeply. Kathy Gruver, author of Conquer Your Stress with Mind/Body Techniques, suggests mini meditations in which you focus on breathing in and out as a way to stop the stress. “It may not make the crazy drunk uncle behave himself, but it makes you handle it better,” she says.  If possible, put distance between yourself and the problem person. Place that person at the other end of the table. Or simply spend time in some other part of the house talking with the family members whose company you enjoy.

  2. Invite an outsider.
    Having non-family members at a family event often helps people act their best—or at least better. Invite a friend who might spend the day alone or, if you have a military base or senior home nearby, offer to host a young soldier or senior citizen for the holiday meal.

  3. Take care of yourself.
    Make sure you follow your normal eat right/work out/get enough sleep routine. It will help you handle the stress of a family get-together and help you resist Aunt Martha’s plea to “eat more cookies; I baked them just for you because I know they are your favorites.” You can even learn ways to cut calories during the holidays  too!

  4. Try to say “no.”
    If one more holiday party is too much, say “no.” People will excuse you. More importantly, if you haven’t been invited to a holiday party, realize that it doesn’t mean you have to stay home alone. Offer to feed people at a soup kitchen or help hand out gifts at an orphanage. Or invite someone to your house for a quiet cup of coffee and friendly chat.

Finally, if you find the stress of the holidays is leaving you feeling out of sorts and sad, talk to your doctor about whether counseling and/or medication might help.


What’s your go-to weapon for keeping holiday stress in check?

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