Challenging family dynamics can cause a significant amount of anxiety and stress, especially during the holidays. Although you do not want to assume every event with your family will be the same, you may feel a little more in control if you prepare yourself ahead of time. Below are six tips to help you navigate holidays and events with family:
1. Establish an ally
An ally is someone you feel comfortable teaming up with because you know they will have your back-someone who may also need your support as well, during family gatherings. You can help one another throughout the evening. Remember, there is safety in numbers, even if there are only two of you.
2. Create a code word or phrase
Come up with a code word that you and your ally can use if one of you needs a break. A code word can also be used when you've reached your stride, or your comfortable limit with family/holiday cheer. My husband and I have a code word. When either of us has reached our limit, we're tired, or perhaps the family fun has become a little inappropriate, one of us will say "perfect margarita". This is our signal to one another to begin wrapping things up and heading toward the door, possibly in pursuit of perfect margaritas.
3. Arm yourself with 'One Liners'
Many of us have those family members who always manage to cross personal boundaries, by bringing up sensitive or personal topics that you'd rather not discuss with them (or with anyone for that matter) during a family event. First, identify your conversation limits, and topics you want to steer clear of (children, weight, your sexuality, your employment status, etc.). Second, think of 2-3 witty and humorous 'one liners' you can use as a way to shift the conversation and the focus of their prying inquiries.
Example: Mom: "You've put on a little weight haven't you?"
You: "Well, I am still in training for the chili eating competition. I've gotta do my part to support the family name."
Then, turn the focus of the conversation to a less personal and intrusive topic.
4. Know your limits
You plan to spend time with your family, but you know that prolonged exposure usually ends in disaster. Set a time limit on your visit. Maybe it takes two hours before things become tense, or maybe three. Keep your time allowance in mind while visiting. Leave while things are still calm and peaceful. This can be a step toward increasing positive experiences and fond memories with your family.
Exercise allows your body to release the chemical known as endorphins, into your brain causing feelings of positivity and well-being. If you want to keep your anxiety and stress in check, go for a brisk walk or run before family activities get underway. Whatever you decide, make exercise a part of your plans.
6. It's okay to just say NO
For some of us the holidays or family events create a significant amount of anxiety. We become overwhelmed, and the sense of dread is almost unbearable. If this is you, give yourself a break. Sit this one out. Take time for yourself, go see a movie, or spend the day with people you actually enjoy being with.
The tips shared are useful in any setting and at any time with family, friends, even co-workers. However, if you find navigating relationships and setting boundaries with the people in your life is something you have trouble with, speaking with a professional counselor can help you discover the cause and solutions to your trouble. Healthy boundaries produce healthy relationships. Working with a professional counselor can help you learn skills for setting boundaries with the people in your life so you can experience healthier relationships.