If your holidays and family gatherings are stressful and often disappointing, it is time to try something new. Using the holidays to confront family members in yet another annual sparring match is a certain recipe for a ruined celebration.
Instead, look at the holiday season as an opportunity to make peace with estranged family members, experiment with low-stress celebrations, and put yourself and those you care most about first. Try employing the following tips to help you reduce stress and enjoy the festivities more than you have in years past.
How to Better Enjoy the Holidays
1. Establish Your Priorities
Trying to satisfy the expectations of parents, siblings, or children during the holidays can overwhelm anybody. Selecting gifts, decorating, preparing food, and planning travel are physically and emotionally exhausting. Often, when the family gets together, members are expected to conform to their old roles based on birth order, gender, family rules, and rituals, ensuring that the holidays are “like they are supposed to be.”
According to Dr. Ken Duckworth, medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “We tend to compare ourselves with these idealized notions of perfect families and perfect holidays.” As a consequence, the pressure to go along, rather than rock the boat, triggers resentment and conflict.
When your holidays become a time of guilt, anger, and regret, it is time to change the dynamics. Neither you nor your family are the same people who established your early roles and traditions.
Changes are inevitable in every family. Children grow up and become parents. Healthy, independent people age and become dependent. Siblings move across the country, pursue different careers, and develop different values. These changes require a new perspective and the evolution or replacement of the rituals and relationships that may have been satisfying in the past but are no longer appropriate.
The first step to a happy holiday is to determine what you want from the experience. What is important to you? What are your priorities for the season? Give up on the idea of a perfect family, perfect environment, and perfect gifts. These goals depend upon others whom you cannot control.
Consider what you want from the holidays, not what others want from you. Which traditions are important to you, which traditions should be changed, and which traditions should be discarded? Recognize the changes that have occurred in your life and other family members, and adjust your expectations accordingly.