How to cope with the stresses of trying to please everyone
OK, ‘tis the season. With the upcoming holidays, being prepared can help you handle the stress better. Here is a question from a reader about this very thing.
“Dear Andy, my parents and most of my family live here in town, but my husband’s family lives across the country. We are having a hard time figuring out how to share holiday time with both families. My husband really wants to see his parents and siblings, but my family really wants us here for the holidays. The stress of deciding how to please everyone is taking a lot of the fun and joy out of the holiday season. What can we do to lower the stress of the holidays? Signed: Stressed-out for the holidays.”
Dear “Stressed-out for the holidays.” With most families, sharing time with family is a very common problem people are trying to figure out this time of year. To answer your question, let me give you the top six ways to get through holiday stress in one piece.
1. Set Realistic Expectations: Every family has a unique culture, ways of communicating (or not), and has fantasies about how the holidays should go. Keeping your expectations in line with the reality of the situation you’re in can be helpful. Remember, real life during the holidays is not a Hallmark Christmas movie or a sentimental TV commercial. Determining your realistic goals for the holidays is very helpful and trying to make the “perfect holiday” can add up to a lot of stress and disappointment. Instead of trying to create the perfect holiday, a better goal might be to have a less stressful shopping season and calm connecting time with family. When it comes to spending money on gifts, keep in mind that both children and adults have only temporary joy from an expensive gift. On the other hand, spending quality time with family members and doing a few special activities can create lasting memories that become part of a person for life.
2. Be Flexible: Part of having less stress is to avoid thinking there is only a right way or wrong way to celebrate the holidays. This doesn’t take into consideration what others think about the way they want to celebrate the holidays. “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” With all the pressures of the holidays, trying to control and dictate how things will go can only lead to disappointment for you and your family. There may be some traditions you want to do, but there might be some you can give up. If your goal is to have a joyful and peaceful holiday visit, being flexible is key. Also, keep in mind it’s common for adults visiting a parent’s house to regress to the child’s role and let a parent “baby” them. Try to be tolerant.
3. Setting Healthy Boundaries with Family: This means saying “no,” sometimes to the requests others make of you. An excellent way to determine boundaries is to discuss ahead of time what you and your family members want from holiday time together. This could include your spouse, children and extended family members. Be careful not to try to set your boundaries based on how others should behave but only your reaction to them. If Uncle George tends to get drunk and vulgar at gatherings, plan not to be around him as much during those times. If your mother tends to tell you how to live your life, you might practice in the mirror a polite smile and gentle “thank you for your concern” and try to redirect the topic or gracefully remove yourself from the room.
4. Create Some Alone Time: Part of managing holiday stress with family could be to get away for some quiet time to recharge your resolve to keep the peace and stay calm. This might include joining the kids outside to watch them play, offer to run errands, stay at a bed and breakfast or hotel instead of your parents’ house. You or your husband may need a break from family.
5. Avoid Conversation Land Mines: When you can, avoid conversations about politics, religious differences, work or school choices, parenting advice and gossiping about other family members. Since you can’t always do this, attempting to change the subject or remove yourself might be helpful. Differences can be ironed out later after the holiday season.
6. Managing Loneliness: During the holidays, many people are lonely due to the death of a loved one or not having a significant other, or other reasons. Remember, loneliness is a subjective feeling. Some people are alone and not lonely, while some are surrounded by loved ones and still feel lonely. If you find yourself at times feeling lonely, try to stay “in-themoment” with whatever activity you are doing. Feeling alone, depressed or anxious usually comes from thinking about the past or the future.
I hope this helps. Maybe this year, you’ll call yourself “Stress-free for the Holidays.”
Andy Sibley, MA, LPC, LMFT is a psychotherapist in private practice and contracted counselor for “The Dr. Phil Show.” To Ask Andy a question about a difficult situation you may want advice with, please email him at Andy@AndySibley.com or go to his website at www.AndySibley.com.