Dec-14-2010

10 Tips for Managing Family Stress at Holidays

Surviving the holidays with relativesHoliday cheer…or is it holiday fear? While many of us are eagerly awaiting the arrival of family to help celebrate the holiday season, many are dreading the same event.

I have heard patients and friends talk about ways to avoid being with certain relatives who they know will be rude, obnoxious, drunk, or all of the above. This can get to be a bit tricky with in-laws and step families. While we can’t choose our relatives, we can choose how and when we spend time with them and how we respond to their behaviors. 

Here are 10 quick tips to survive “relative stress“.

1. Avoid getting overwhelmed by feeling the need to visit with everyone on the same day. Setting up smaller get togethers during the holidays can help you enjoy longer periods of time with those you enjoy. And you’ll have time for shorter events such as getting together for a cocktail or coffee with relatives with whom you are less comfortable.

2. Establish new traditions. Decide what is best for you and your immediate family. Christmas Eve at one parent’s home and Christmas Day at another’s can work well and avoids the pitfalls of everyone being exhausted and overwhelmed on a single day.

3. Put your kid’s needs first after a divorce. Don’t make your kid’s responsible for making your holiday special. Help them figure out a way to enjoy time with each parent and let them know that you will be fine. If the other parent is far away and the child can’t spend Christmas Eve with one parent and Christmas Day with the other, one option is using technology to make the “visits.” If both parents have computers with web cameras, children and parent can talk and see other using a program such as Skype and share the holiday time.

4. Lay down your sword. I have been pleasantly surprised recently by a number of divorced parents  getting together and sharing a holiday meal. Perhaps this is what the holiday is really about. A cautionary note is to be careful young kids don’t think you are getting back together. And certainly don’t put yourself in an abusive situation. That doesn’t help anyone.

5. Be assertive. Don’t be afraid to leave a gathering  or put your kids down for a nap if they are starting to get tired. It is OK to take charge of your family’s needs.

6. Plan time for activities you think everyone will enjoy. Whether it’s decorating cookies or playing Yahtzee, specific activities can help give you some control over how the day goes. My adult kids often go to the movies together on Christmas afternoon. I remember long games of Monopoly with cousins over the holidays.  Remember that it’s OK if not everyone wants to participate.

7. Be flexible and let go of some control. Some of the best memories are made when things are less than perfect. How many of us have forgotten to serve a dish? I recall numerous Jell-o molds left in the fridge and discovered at the end of the meal.

8. Accept help. Working together in the kitchen, cooking or cleaning up, provides good opportunities for communication. Really listening to people may help you feel more comfortable with family members. Letting others help with serving, carving andcooking also lets them feel good while decreasing your responsibilites.

9. Look for the good. So often we focus on annoying behaviors. If we really try hard, we can often find something good about most people.

10. Volunteer. If being with  relatives proves to be just too stressful, consider volunteering at a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, nursing home or other local group that can use the help and will appreciate it. Volunteering is guaranteed to make just about everyone feel good!

Photos by gareandkitty via flickr

Have questions about holiday stress? Join the American Psychological Association and psychologist Dr. Katherine Nordal for a Q&A on Facebook Tuesday, Dec. 14 from 2-3 p.m. EST. We’ll be answering questions, sharing tips and discussion ways to cope with holiday pressures while staying healthy. More info here.

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4 Responses to “10 Tips for Managing Family Stress at Holidays”

  1. Dr. Ducharme   December 17, 2010 at 5:55 am

    Thank you so much for your comment Epifania. Have a happy and healthy holiday season

  2. Epifania Kurcaba   December 17, 2010 at 5:47 am

    I was quite encouraged to find this thread. I wanted to thank you for this unique read. I definitely savored every tiny bit of it and I have you bookmarked to examine out new stuff you post.