Believe it or not, the holidays rank right up there on the stress scales with asking the boss for a raise, moving, or starting at a new school or job. If the timing coincides with other current stressors such as financial troubles, relationship problems, family illness or the loss of a loved one, the holidays can put someone over the edge. That someone might be you or someone close to you.
Whether celebrating at home or on the road, most of us need to learn how to manage our stress better and how to be together more gracefully. Here are some practical suggestions to help bring out the best in everyone:
1. Remember the big picture. A holiday can be a great opportunity to create fun and lasting memories. Consider making learning, loving and living in the moment your highest priority. Try not to sweat the small stuff or get bogged down in all the details.
2. Have appropriate expectations. Thinking the holidays will be “perfect” with the whole family together can be a set-up for disappointment. People get sick, Aunt Tillie might be late again, and the kids’ excitement can sometimes morph into meltdowns. The holiday will most likely include both ups and downs.
3. Set realistic goals and rethink your obligations. Think ahead of time about what are the most treasured rituals of the holiday. Family meetings are an ideal way to make group decisions about plans and help everyone feel respected for their preferences. Since it adds to the family’s stress to be super busy, decide on the top priorities together and prune the rest.
4. Don’t over-indulge the children. Help your children learn the value of giving instead of just getting. Insist on mutual gift giving, and create a family service activity that helps others in need and reminds your children to count their blessings. Teach them about saying thank you.
5. Honor individual differences. Family members often have different preferences around food, activities, how much time to be active vs. relaxing, etc. It’s an important time to learn how to compromise and take turns leading and following. If elders are present, have them share memories of family traditions that may have been very different than today’s.
“The joy of brightening other lives, bearing each others’ burdens, easing other’s loads and supplanting empty hearts and lives with generous gifts becomes for us the magic of the Holidays.” -W. C. Jones
6. Share appreciations and praise. Families do best when everybody (including adults) feels appreciated. Notice the good things and praise your kids for their efforts and contributions, aiming for at least a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative statements.
7. Don’t relax rules and routines too much. Younger children can’t sleep in, so later or irregular bedtimes during the holidays can create sleep deprivation and irritability. Kids thrive when parents provide lots of love and warmth, but also firmness and structure. Parents who keep up their own healthy habits of exercise and sleep will be more apt to be patient and clear-headed.
8. Attend to family feelings. Sometimes kids (and parents) may need a good cry to release their excitement or frustration about failed expectations. When tensions flare, a good “repair kit” is to have family members work things out by sitting face to face, listening to and acknowledging each other’s feelings. Give yourself permission to feel sad about loved ones unable to share this holiday with you.
9. Allow some down time. Families are often not accustomed to being together for such extended periods of time. Allow some ebbs and flows of being together and apart, and of quiet and more active times. Don’t insist that everyone do everything together. Give yourself permission to take a break when needed.
10. Listen to your own needs. Create time to be apart from the children and nurture yourself and your adult relationships. It’s a win-win situation. One of the greatest gifts you can offer your children is your own sense of happiness and well-being. If you are going through a difficult time, this is even more essential. Be as kind and gentle to yourself as you can, and try to find a balance between giving and receiving.