Do the Right Thing

Spirit, science, and health

7 Strategies to Survive Christmas with the Relatives

How to avoid family drama on Christmas

While we may hope for one of those ideal Norman Rockwell Christmas with the family experiences, we all know that reality is often very different from fantasy when it comes to the holidays. Sadly, Christmas can be pretty stressful and unpleasant for many who may not look forward to spending a lot of time with people that they don't particularly like but feel obligated to be with during this time of year.


I'd like to offer 7 strategies for survival. So, consider doing the right thing for yourself (and perhaps others too) by using the following:

1. Don't take the bait!  Some relatives may use the holidays to act out family dynamics, old sibling rivalries, and so forth. Comments are made, question asked, and behavior occur that all try to get you to explode with upset. If it has happened before to you it will likely happen again from the same people so expect it and don't take the bait. If you know it is coming you can plan for it. The remaining strategies may help you not to go there.


2. Watch the alcohol consumption! It can be easy to drink too much during these gatherings and then you are more likely to have troubles with family dynamics and impulse control. Be mindful of how much you are drinking and think less is more when it comes to alcohol.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

 
3. Put brakes on your impulses by counting to 10 (slowly and in another language if you need to). When you are confronted with a family member who irritates you get ready to count before you say anything.


4. Take an adult time out. While it may be hard to take a walk around the block given the weather this time of year in much of the country, there may be other ways that you can take a time out during the holiday events. Perhaps seeing what the kids are doing, going to the bathroom, or helping with the dishes or preparations can get you some time away from folks who drive you crazy. Maybe this is the real reason why there is always football to watch on Christmas. If you can take a walk, then that can be a bonus (as well as good for your body to boot).

 
5. Learn to observe. Try to develop what we psychologists call an "observing ego." Try to take yourself out of the situation you are in and observe it similar to if you were watching a movie. It may give you a bit of distance to do so and not get so emotionally involved.


6. Keep the big picture in mind. While we all may love to have an ideal holiday with family and friends, the reality is that most people really don't have the kind of relationships that we wished we had. The big picture for some is that you have to survive a few hours or days with the family during the holidays and then you can get back to your normal life. The big picture is to survive without too much family drama. Keep the expectations reasonable and doable.


7. Be grateful. No matter how stressful family can be, it really is important to be grateful for what we do have. If you are reading this blog, then you are alive, have internet access, and have at least some free time to surf the net. Be grateful for that.

 
Consider using these 7 principles this Christmas and see what happens. Hopefully, it will make your experience less stressful.

   

 

    

Thomas Plante, PhD, ABPP, is the Augustin Cardinal Bea, SJ University Professor at Santa Clara University and Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University.

more...

Subscribe to Do the Right Thing

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?