As much as we love our family and often choose to spend our holidays together, there is an undeniable amount of stress that accompanies these family get-togethers. While we certainly stress about all the food we must prepare and gifts we must wrap, families are known to be one of the top stressors during this time of year.
Family is stereotyped to be a blissful, accepting place of love and understanding, but this isn’t always the case. Perhaps our unrealistic expectations of what family is and what family holidays are supposed to be taints our impression of reality. The truth is, even with the most loving family, fitting the cookie cutter definition of family is nearly impossible to achieve.
Perhaps our stress about family derives from the idea that family doesn’t allow us to be ourselves, as suggested by BeWell. Families are structures, with each person having a predetermined role based on where they fall in the family tree and other innate characteristics. We think that because we’re related, we should all be the same – similar interests, opinions, and values. Such expectations that come with being part of a family may make our space to express ourselves within the family feel very contained.
Family stress may not be completely avoidable, but keeping in mind some simple steps will help keep it at bay.
Keep Realistic Expectations
You know how your family holidays normally go. When thinking about the anticipated gathering, consider what your get-togethers typically consist of. Building up an unrealistic picture of uninterrupted joy is setting yourself up for disappointment. Family holidays can be a wonderful time! But they’re not always what we see on TV and in the Hallmark movies. It’s important to walk into the gathering with a positive attitude, but keep your expectations realistic.
Avoid Touchy Subjects
Since my family splits when it comes to politics, we keep our political opinions to themselves during family gatherings. Otherwise, conversations would get very heated and the dinner table would turn into a debate competition. If your family’s the same way, whether it’s with politics or other controversial topics, make sure to avoid these conversations during the festivities. If there’s any bad blood or previous family blow-ups from the past, tucking them under the rug for the occasion is in everyone’s best interest. I guarantee you can find something more agreeable to discuss.
If the conversation does take a turn for the worse, don’t be afraid to make a joke or change the subject in an effort to dodge an argument. Everyone is gathering to celebrate their holiday and their loved ones, so keep that goal at the forefront of the day. Nothing like a smile to crack the sensible tension!
Take Time for Yourself
This piece of advice is one that I follow most often. I come from a very large family who spends most of our time together in high spirits, however, I still find the need to step away from the crowd and craziness and take a few moments to myself. In situations with a lot of socializing and running around, recharging your brain and taking a few deep breaths is more important than you may think.
Oftentimes, the built-up stress of family encounters is worse than the actual encounter. Your family is your family, so love them, treasure them, give back to them. If you need to enact some of the tips listed above, though, don’t feel guilty or unappreciative of your loved ones. Family is tricky, we just hope we can make it a little better for you. How do you handle family stress during the holidays? Tell us!
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