By Lynette Dixon, PhD, LPC, NCC

Holidays can be a magical time when the world seems brighter and people are a little kinder and more charitable. However, the holidays can also be an extremely stressful time where money is tight and the to-do list is a mile long with houses to decorate (both inside and out), cookies to make, and presents to buy and wrap. It can be enough to make one dread the holiday season and feel much more like the Grinch than Buddy the Elf.

In addition to the stresses involved in just doing what is needed to make the holidays cheery and festive, there is also the extra layer of managing family relationships. Making it through the holidays with family members can be tough. Holidays may be the one time of year that family members all come together. This can make for a wonderful reunion, but it can also be a recipe for disaster with old feelings and resentments bubbling just beneath the surface. Sadly, instead of memories of everyone gathered around to share a family feast, laughing and enjoying everyone’s company, many families have memories of arguments and hurt feelings.

Here are some tips for navigating the complexities of family relationships and holiday stresses to make this special season more enjoyable:

  • Decide what is most important to you during the holiday season and prioritize those things. If it is making Grandma Sue’s Gingerbread Houses yourself from scratch, then do that. But if it is merely the joy of keeping alive the tradition of decorating houses, then perhaps you can let go of the stress of making the houses yourself and being okay with purchasing the premade kits. The point is to keep meaningful traditions alive, not to merely do things because that is how it has always been done.
  • We are often bombarded by invitations to various holiday parties and events. Ask yourself which things are most important to you and practice being okay with letting other things go. If you feel like you will “let down” a family member or close friend by skipping their celebration, one alternative is to reach out and set up something with them for another time in the year when things are less stressful. This will allow you to nourish that relationship, if it is important to you, but also to keep things more low key during the holidays.
  • Be honest with loved ones and ask for help if needed. If you have hosted the family holiday celebration for years, but this year it is too much, it is okay to let everyone know that you are doing something different this year.
  • The holidays may not be the best time to dive into deep-seated emotional issues. The holidays may be a time of forgiveness and good will toward men, but choosing Aunt Sally’s annual holiday dinner to dive into those topics may not be the best idea. Instead, the holidays may be a time to keep conversations light, have fun, and build some positive memories. Long-standing resentments and conflicts are better suited to address at another date.
  • Finally, don’t forget to take care of yourself during the holidays. It may be the season of giving, but it is important to be good to yourself so that you can be there for others. Make sure to get enough sleep, eat well, stay hydrated, and practice good self-care.

By following these tips, hopefully you will find more joy and meaning in the season.

Lynette Dixon, MSW, LCSW has experience working with families, couples, and individuals of all ages on a variety of issues including depression, anxiety, grief and loss, marital concerns, addiction, substance abuse, co-occurring disorders, PTSD, and other trauma-related disorders.  She enjoys working with individuals to overcome addiction. She has previous experience working with individuals who were going through the Drug Court process to find recovery and work on their treatment goals and has served as a member of the Lincoln-Pike Counties Drug Court Foundation Board.

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