It’s holiday season, and you know what that means! It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and seeing family is the best part about it.
That’s the story we’re all told, at least.
The reality is, it can be a perfect storm of stress, depression, and frustration. Hopefully, this article will help you have more of the first, and less of the second.
I want you to have a fantastic holiday season, so I’ve broken this guide up into what you can do before, during, and after your holiday visits to ensure it’s as smooth as possible.
Let’s get into it.
The holidays are often the only time everyone in the family can be in the same place at the same time. Nowadays it’s not uncommon for everyone to be spread out all over the country.
If you are hundreds, or thousands of miles away from your family, the first thing to do is figure out whether or not you can even make the trip home. Money can be tight, especially this time of year, so you have to do the math on whether or not your budget will allow it. (If not, you might want to check out episode 22 of the podcast where Phil Ferguson teaches us “how to money,” but that’s more of a long-term approach, and we’re focusing more on the here and now.)
If you can make it home, then next step is to decide if you want to go home. Remember, you are in charge of your decisions, and you alone have to live with the consequences of your actions. If you have a compelling reason & know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you will be better off staying right where you are, then by all means make that choice.
If You’re Visiting
Once you decide to go home, you have to set expectations; for yourself, and everyone else.
Decide for yourself who you want to spend time with, where you’re going to see them, and how much time you want to spend there. Then, communicate your plans with whoever it involves. If you’re going to be spending more than a day or two, I’d strongly advise you getting a hotel and have your own mode of transportation!
Nothing makes you feel more trapped than actually being trapped while your ride promises that they’ll be ready to go in 20 minutes 4 hours ago. It’s also important to have your own space to retreat to where you’re sure nobody is going to barge in unannounced or uninvited.
If You’re Hosting
If you’re going to be hosting the festivities, it’s important to communicate your expectations to guests before they arrive, too. Set boundaries ahead of time, and then stick to them. Let them know when guests are expected, what they can/should bring, how else they can help out, and when you plan on wrapping things up. Setting boundaries and managing expectations will go a long way to having a positive experience.
Whether you’re the one hosting, or visiting, it’s important to define what it really means to have a successful time with your family. Too often we define success in terms of some idea of what the think the perfect gathering is supposed to look like.
Or, we define success in terms of someone else’s behavior instead of managing our own choices.
We want our dad to tell us he’s proud of us. Or have our family finally understand what the hell social media is (it’s not just gossiping about celebrities, I swear!). Maybe you have an important announcement, and you want everyone to welcome you with open arms.
As long as you dictate success based on someone else’s choices, you’re never going to be happy. You have to define, for yourself, what it is you need to do to ensure a positive experience, and then stick to it. Know what you want out of the interaction, and clearly outline how the best version of yourself would act in any given situation. Only then can you head home at the end of the visit and still be happy with how you handled yourself (even if Uncle Al still doesn’t understand what the hell you do for a living.)
You can’t force someone to accept or understand you. Only you can manage how you choose to respond to the situation.
Know What You’re Getting Into
You know these people. They know exactly how to push your buttons. After all, they’re the folks who installed them.
If you know that uncle X tends to get a little drunk, you can make your choice now on how you’re going to react to the situation, so you don’t have to spend any emotional energy when you’re in the middle of it.
Develop a game plan, then adapt as needed once theory meets practice. Expect the best, prepare for the worst.
You’ve let people know you’re coming to visit, how long you’re staying, and where you expect to be. You’ve made the trek back, you knock on the door, and now what?
People tend to look for the negatives. They look for how things could be better, where things are going wrong, and how poorly things are going.
This is the perfect time to practice gratitude. Remember that our brains have evolved to show us what we expect to see. If you train yourself to look for things you’re genuinely thankful for, the more of those things you’ll see.
Plus, remember nobody forced you to visit. You made the choice yourself!
No matter how frustrating your family is, there’s always something you can appreciate about them.
Your mother is always critical of your choices? You can appreciate that she’s doing the best she knows how to do, and that criticism is the best way she knows to show how much she cares about you and is trying to help you in her own way.
It can be incredibly difficult to find something to appreciate about every situation, but it gets easier the more you try it.
Stop Trying to Change People
This goes along with learning how to appreciate your family, and defining success in terms of your behavior and not others’.
The only person who needs to change in order for you to feel better about things. . . is you.
Have you ever met someone when they were very young, haven’t seen them for awhile, and then been surprised at how much they’ve grown? Time tends to stop when it comes to how we remember people, and that’s why it can feel so strange when you go home. Everyone else sees us how we were when we left, but you’re not that same person any more. You’ve grown, you’ve changed, you’ve learned a lot, and hopefully become a better person than you were last time you saw your family.
This, however, can lead to a lot of friction when our family treats us the same way were a long time ago. We want others to see us as the capable individuals we are, and be respected as the grown up you’re working to be. Remember, though, that the only control you have is in how you behave.
Act and speak like the person you want to be recognized for, and refuse to behave in any way that is counter to that. No matter how many noogies your uncle tries to give you.
Instead of getting angry, look for what you can appreciate about the situation, voice your boundaries, and then maintain them.
Nothing Is Personal
Nothing someone else says or does has anything to do with you. Their choices and behaviors are theirs to live with. They say nothing about who you are as a person, and they do not define you. It can feel incredibly personal, and there’s nobody on the planet who can get under your skin like family, but remember that your Aunt who asks if you’re still single is saying more about how she sees the world and what she values than your worth as a person.
Everyone is trying to live their life as best they can, and the more often you can remind yourself that you are not their expectations and judgements, the happier you will be.
Meet Everyone With Compassion
Once you realize no matter how nasty someone is trying to be, it’s their best way of navigating the world, you can have a lot more compassion for them. Meeting the world with understanding takes incredible strength, and you can help the world be a better place by living life the best way you know how. Compassion can only make the world a better place.
Focus On Others
Instead of demanding love from your family, look at what you can do to be that love for others. Nothing makes you feel better than giving and providing that generosity you might need so badly in your own life.
With yourself. You’re the only person you have to be honest with.
Don’t trust your family to not come unglued at your “alternative” lifestyle? You don’t have to tell them. You get to decide how much honesty your family gets.
Don’t Overdo It
Whether it’s alcohol, food, or time spent around taxing people, try not to exceed your recommended dose.
If you’re going to gorge yourself, it can be good to moderate the negative feelings of being stuffed by doing a little bit of physical activity. Maybe go for a walk around the block after eating. Who knows, maybe the whole family will go with you, and you find it’s a lot more fun being around everyone when you’re not trapped inside 4 walls with everyone.
Maintain Situational Awareness
If you keep your head on your shoulders, you can keep an eye out for the temperature of the party. You’ll know when someone’s had too much to drink, and you’ll be able to respond appropriately instead of contributing to the problem with your own excesses.
Stick to Your Limits
If it’s the end of the night, and you’re ready to go, then go. It’s important to know when to call it quits and if that time comes before everyone else wants it to be, then tough luck. Again, you’re the one who has to live with the consequences of your actions, and if you know that staying another hour will destroy you, then it’s in your best interests to say good bye and head out.
You made it through! You realized that nothing lasts forever, and that you’re on the other side of the experience. Now what?
Ask yourself what you can learn about the experience. Ask yourself what else you could have appreciated about the visit.
Give Yourself Space
Any time you go through a disruptive experience (even if it’s positive), and visiting family can be incredibly disruptive to your usual groove, it’s important to give yourself space to process the experience. If you go right back into your routine, it can be a very jarring juxtaposition.
Instead, give yourself some time to breathe, relax, and slowly get back into the swing of things. There can often be an emotional drop after intense situations, so give yourself the space and permission to deal with it, instead of charging through, refusing to admit you’re missing everyone.
Stay In Touch
If you want to, of course. But it’s also good to maintain contact so you can keep an eye out for all those pictures your aunt is going to upload where you weren’t looking at the camera. Untag with extreme prejudice.
Now is the time to examine how well your plan worked, where it could work better, and what changes you can make next time.
And that’s it. That’s how to survive the holidays! Set expectations, manage your own behavior, and maintain your boundaries. Do that, and you’ll not only preserve your sanity, but you might have fun doing it!