By Jennifer Scott
Photo by Jez Timms of Unsplash
Whether you’re attending family functions for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or a combination thereof, you could be in for lots of fun and revelry or high anxiety.
But if you’re visiting family, everything should be wonderful, right? Not exactly. Unfortunately, we’ve all seen the holiday movies in which families are warm and welcoming, children are well-behaved and nobody is critical of anyone else. That’s very unlike the reality of most people’s families.
Will your uncle tell inappropriate jokes again? Will your grandfather drink too much beer and blast his game shows on TV? Will your sister’s kids act like little self-absorbed nightmares this year? Will your mom criticize your outfit? Yeah, probably.
For some people, the holidays are just a massive trigger of anxiety, regardless of whether there are family tensions. Those with anxiety or panic disorder struggle in their daily lives, but when you sprinkle a little change in routine to the mix, they can seriously suffer. Social anxiety disorder and Seasonal Affective Disorder can also cause people to avoid mixing and mingling.
For Those in Recovery
If you’re in addiction recovery, being around lots of people who are drinking can be a challenge during the holidays. It helps to have a plan and know what you’re going to say before you go. “No thanks” might work just fine, but in case it doesn’t, you can try, “I have to drive,” or just “I’m not drinking tonight.” You can also keep a non-alcoholic drink in your hand, which will discourage people from offering. Just keep it full so people don’t keep trying to top it off. If the pressure gets too be too much, just leave. The best exit is, “Thanks for having me, but I have to go.” If you encounter resistance, just leave. You’re abstaining for your own health and happiness, not theirs.
How to Deal
If those family gatherings have started to weigh heavily on you, here are some more tips for handling the holidays with them:
Lower your expectations — If you go into the holidays with high expectations of yourself and others, you’re more likely to be let down. Prepare yourself for reality in advance.
Stick to routines — Wake up at the usual time, eat your usual breakfast and try to go to bed at the same time. If you exercise (and you should) try your best to stick to that regimen as well. Your schedule will likely change a lot, but you can still maintain some form of routine.
Focus on others — Making sure someone else (kids, parents, spouse) is having a good time is a good way to get out of your own head. Donate to a charity or volunteer in a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. These acts of kindness will give you a feeling of satisfaction that will remind you what the holidays are about.
Don’t stress about traditions — As we get older and more people come into your extended family, traditions change and evolve. If you’ve always done something special on Christmas Eve but someone’s child has to visit his or her father that night, roll with it. If you stay hung up on something that happened 30 years ago, you can expect to be disappointed.
Have an exit plan — Before the event, discuss with your partner a way to get out if things get difficult. Park somewhere that’s easy to leave, and have an excuse planned. You can always say you’ve overscheduled.
Don’t overschedule — Having too many plans can cause anxiety. You don’t have to go to every event to which you were invited. It’s okay to say no.
Remember to enjoy it — Your family loves you, even if they have weird ways of showing it. Remember that and try to live in the moment. When your children are opening their gifts and have huge grins on their faces, pay attention to that feeling. Give your parents extra hugs and tell them you love them.
No matter what, it’s important to keep in mind that the holidays come every year. If this year is a bust, you can always try again next year. With these tips, you can ease at least some of the tensions that you might have endured and have a happy holiday season.
Jennifer Scott shares stories about the ups and downs of her anxiety and depression at SpiritFinder.