6 Tips for Dealing With Difficult Family Members During the Holidays by Cecille Ahrens, LCSW, CEAP

5 Tips for Staying Sane and Centered During the Holidays

Written by Cecille Ahrens, LCSW, CEAP

Follow Cecille on IG for all things mental health @getmentalpodcast!

Despite the excitement of the holidays, it is also often a very stressful and demanding time for most of us. Not only do we have to manage expectations and finances, we also have to manage our energy, time and what therapists refer to as “internal resources”.  These are the things that anchor us and keep us stable, such as patience, openness, hope, courage, positivity, etc. Such qualities can really help us navigate emotionally charged situations and manage conflict-ridden relationships.  

1. Know your triggers and stressors

This means have a sense of who and what triggers you. What do you find stressful to the point of destabilization? What gets under your skin so fast you don’t even know you’ve escalated from 0-7 on the anger scale? We all have our hot buttons. The idea here is to recognize your triggers earlier on in the escalation process so that you can take care of yourself and show up the way you would like, with minimal clean-up or damage control to do the next day

2. Know your limits 

Similar to know your triggers and stressors, it helps to know what your boundaries, preferences and limitations are. Do not over-commit.  For example, if you are planning to go to see an aunt and uncle you historically have had issues with, it might be wise to have a sense of how much time your emotional bandwidth will allow you to stay there without losing your calm and cool.

3. Have a self-care plan

Rehearse in your mind what coping skills and strategies you plan to use in the event you are starting to become upset or if you actually end up being disrespected, or a line is crossed. 

In the case of the example above-mentioned, discuss your needs with your partner or significant others that you plan to go to your aunt and uncle’s house with, so that they all are aware what you plan to do (i.e. when you plan to leave or make a gracious exit) and why. Hopefully they will be supportive. If they cannot support you in this effort, do what you feel is best for you.

4Be kind & gracious whenever possible.

This is just good practice in general. However the specific benefit of being kind and gracious toward family members or friends you have friction or conflict with outside of abuse, is that it allows you to practice true mutual respect. A sort of win-win mentality.  Not letting “ their stuff” bleed over to you; not taking on what may not belong to you. It’s a form of healthy detachment and healthy emotional boundaries. Being respectful, practicing what we preach, but not to the point of codependency.

5. Say sorry and take responsibility for your actions whenever appropriate.

Again, good life skill that goes can go a long, long way. Plus, it usually benefits us psychologically and emotionally when we know we’ve done the right thing because it gives us a sense of peace and closure. It can also help us release any unhealthy attachments we may still have toward the person or event. 

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