Wintery snow and time off from work. Decorations, Christmas tress, and an abundance of delicious food. The anticipation of seeing family and friends that we might not have seen for months or even years. For most of us, the holidays are a mix of happiness and sadness. While it might seem odd to think of the holidays in this way, it is often how people feel. We are conflicted. We value the time spent with our loved one, the memories made, ponder years past, and think of resolutions for the year to come. We find ourselves worrying about what will go wrong. Will we be stressed out during a trip to see a loved one? Will our plane be delayed or will there be an unexpected snowstorm that ruins our plans? Will "Aunt Susie" or "Uncle Jack" have a repeat of their inappropriate behavior from last year? Only time will tell. So how do we make it through the holidays and enjoy our time with family and friends? How might we enjoy ourselves and not spend time worried about the things we fear will happen? Preparation and planning are good places to start.
During the holidays (as well as the rest of the year I hope), we are happy to see our friends and family and spend time with them. Time is one of our most valuable assets since we can never get more of it. Family will often travel to be together, and all will make sacrifices to be with the one’s they love. The sadness that people often feel during the holidays could be from an empty chair reminding us of the loss of a loved one. Maybe the stress of trying to be everything to everyone so our friends and family can have the perfect holiday is making us feel sad. The unresolved conflict with a loved one that has no end in sight may have left us completely stressed. The anger and frustration that can come with difficult family members or friends can be incredibly challenging to deal with and can turn the best of days into the worst of days. With all of this in mind, the question becomes what can we do to make the holidays as special and stress free as possible? How do we make them what we hope they will be each year?
First, we know the holidays are stressful and it can often help to anticipate the stresses we will face. For example, if we know that a family member is difficult to tolerate, we can devise a plan before the holidays for how we will respond. If we know that someone has a knack for telling inappropriate jokes at the table, we can anticipate that behavior and inform them that jokes need to be appropriate for all family members. Hosting a holiday meal can also be stressful. Make a list of everything you need before the event. If you forget a key ingredient remind yourself that the holidays are about being with the people you love. Ask those loved ones to make a quick trip to the store or bring something from home to help out.
Second, being forgiving can be a game changer. As difficult as it might be to believe, most of us are doing our best when we are with our friends and family. Sometimes, our best might not seem like it is enough. If we are intentional in our forgiveness, we will change the way in which we perceive and respond to things. If our first thought is why is "Uncle Joe" doing that, as opposed to "Uncle Joe" is doing that to make me angry, our perspective shifts and we allow for options that don’t immediately assume that "Uncle Joe" is out to ruin the holidays or make us angry in some way. Maybe he is having a bad day and is not sure how to best deal with what he is experiencing. This would not excuse his behavior but would shift our perspective in a way that might allow for understanding and discussion. In my humble experience, I appreciate forgiveness when I have a bad day or make a mistake. I can think of many times that I said something that was misinterpreted, this way, it only seems fair to be forgiving to others when appropriate.
Third, it is important to set boundaries. The word boundary often has a negative connotation. Simply put, boundaries are a lot like rules in a game. In football, a player might go out of bounds thus ending the play. In this example, the player went outside of the boundaries of play and there was an immediate consequence. In any relationship, there are boundaries. There are things that we can say or cannot say or do that are deemed appropriate or not. Often, confusion arises when the boundaries are not clear to both parties. That does not mean that the boundaries were not there and that expectations were not in place. The real question is how do we deal with boundary violations? If a family member takes it upon themselves to punish our child in a way we do not approve of, what do we do? This is just one example of a difficult situation we might find ourselves in. There is not always an easy answer. The specifics of the situation will assist us in determining a response. Ultimately, the violation should be addressed to help prevent further and continued violation. The specifics of how this is done will vary by person and circumstance. A lack of action on our part may inadvertently lead the offending party to assume acceptance or approval on our part. The behavior will be more likely to occur again.
There’s no doubt that the holidays can be a difficult time for all of us. This post is far from a comprehensive list of scenarios or ways of dealing with a given situation. My hope in writing this is simply that people will have a few ideas of ways to make the holidays more pleasant and less stressful. I get how difficult things can be around the holidays. I want to take a moment to encourage you in your journeys and time spent with loved ones.