Feeling Tense? Improve Your Holiday Gatherings with These Tips

Engage with the West Michigan Woman Community!

The holiday season is upon us, which can be challenging for many, even without a global pandemic. This year, the CDC states that staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others. Here is their list of lower-risk activities:

  • Having a small dinner with only people who live in your household.
  • Preparing traditional family recipes for family and neighbors, especially those at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, and delivering them in a way that doesn't involve contact with others.
  • Having a virtual dinner and sharing recipes with friends and family.
  • Shopping online rather than in person on the day after Thanksgiving or the next Monday.
  • Watching sports events, parades, and movies from home.

Whether we'll be interacting with others virtually or face-to-face, we need to feel, now more than ever, supported and connected to others unconditionally. Given the world's uncertainty and our varying opinions about it all, having pleasant and supportive interactions with others feels all the more necessary. Learning and practicing these interpersonal skills can help us be closer and more connected to others and help the holidays go more smoothly.

Cultivate Flexibility.

Think of most expectations, on ourselves and others, as disappointments waiting to happen. Rather than creating unrealistic expectations, cultivate flexibility instead. Notice yourself making pessimistic predictions about the holidays, such as "my nephew is going to ruin everything." Then, say to yourself, "I have no idea how things are going to go, but whatever happens, I'll roll with it and I'll deal with whatever comes up." Remember that you don't have a crystal ball and cannot predict the future.

Don't Poke the Bear.

Grace is defined as a disposition to kindness, compassion and consideration for others. Instead of poking at a family member who has a different political leaning than you, show some grace. Set aside your ego for the day and focus on what you share instead of what divides you. Perhaps you both have similar hobbies, or maybe it's only a shared guilty pleasure of watching The Bachelor. During this time of political divisiveness, it's more important than ever to see others as more like us than different from us.

Don't Take the Bait.

If you do get poked by someone, don't take the bait. As much as you may want to challenge that person, you won't change their mind, so don't even go there. A tactic that works is to prepare responses you could use to diffuse and deflect potential conflicts. Use a sincere tone and say something like, "It's so great that we can all have our individual views," or "let's agree to disagree," or "I love you too much to argue," and move on. It helps to think of your responses ahead of time, so you have them at the ready.

Accept That Others Don't Have to Share Your Values.

Do you think Grandpa George should have voted for your candidate? "Should-ing" others will only result in anger and frustration for you. You get angry at others when they don't do what you think they should. Next time, try this trick:

Replace the word "should" with "doesn't have to." Then, "Grandpa George should have voted for my candidate" becomes, "Grandpa George doesn't have to vote for my candidate."

Practicing this tip helps to remind you that every person is unique, and they are not wrong or less than because they have different values from yours. Imposing our values on others is futile. Doing so does not make that person change their views or behaviors. Instead, it can drive wedges between people and divide loved ones.

Don't Personalize What Others Say and Do.

Did your mother make a passive-aggressive remark about how she thinks women with long grey hair look like witches? Do you think she said it because you stopped coloring your hair six months ago?

One of the most liberating things you can do for yourself is to stop personalizing what others say. Whatever someone says is not about you, but is 100% about them. Why? Because it reflects their values and beliefs. Consider their history and perspective and how that plays into what they say.

Consider what was considered attractive in your mother's era and how only "grannies" had grey hair. Things have changed for your generation, but she still has her long-set beliefs. Her not understanding current trends doesn't mean anything about you.

Say "I Get To."

Negative thoughts create negative emotions. Saying "I have to see my in-laws" can create feelings of dread, annoyance or resentment. A quick reframe is to replace "have to" with "get to."

"I have to see my in-laws" becomes, "I get to see my in-laws." A positive thought will create positive emotions, and using this trick can reduce your level of negativity. Remember: Where the mind goes, our feelings follow—positively or negatively. It's your choice.

Don't Neglect Yourself! Practice Self-Care—Before, During and After.

Breathe. Your thoughts can create feelings of anxiety and stress, which will increase your heart rate. Slowing down your breathing will help to slow down your heart rate, helping to reduce your anxiety.
The go-to breathing technique I teach people for anxiety goes like this:

1. Inhale for a count of 4.
2. Hold your breath for a count of 4.
3. Exhale for a count of 6.
4. Hold for a count of 4.

Count to yourself as you breathe. Do several rounds, then return to your normal breathing. Repeat as needed. When appropriate, close your eyes to increase the benefit by eliminating visual sensory input. Doing these steps in silence will help to reduce your anxiety further.

Practice Proper Social Distancing and Wear a Mask.

The CDC recommends people wear masks in public and when around those who don't live in your household. Protecting yourself and those around you is the ultimate form of self-care and respect for others during this unprecedented holiday season.

By practicing flexibility, consideration and conscious connection, you can do more than merely endure a holiday season of changes, challenges and unknowns. See this as an opportunity to become closer emotionally, despite being distanced physically.

AnyaNyson-HeadshotWritten by Anya Nyson, LMSW, Psychotherapist, Spectrum Health.

Headshot courtesy of Spectrum Health.



More stories you'll love