The holidays can conjure up lots of emotions: some positive and some not. Part of what stresses people out is the anticipation of what’s in store for them when they see their family. It’s true the holidays offer an opportunity to bond with family members who we don’t normally see; the problem surfaces when we are with family members who we’ve gracefully avoided all year long.
Even those who love and look forward to spending time with their families can’t entirely avoid all of the personality tensions that present themselves during this time. But with a little bit of effort, you can resolve to make this holiday season better than ever before.
Take complete control of your attitude. Your goal is to be proactive about your actions and responses. This means that you make a commitment to think, respond and act differently than you have in the past.
Adjust your expectations and find your sense of humor. For example, if your difficult sister-in-law boasts about how gorgeous and successful her kids are, remember, you can’t change her. Figure out what you’re able to tolerate in her, and then come up with a plan to gracefully avoid, guide or even enjoy her as well as the other various personalities who grace you on this day.
Be purposeful. Remember your goal and purpose for this holiday. Don’t be reactive in the moment. Think about how you want to act and don’t let any provocative, negative family member get in the way of your goal.
Avoid trouble spots. Stay away from loaded topics like politics or topics that are highly adversarial. Think ahead about how seemingly innocent topics might impact those around you. For example, the “Why aren’t you married or pregnant yet?” question, which some might think is benign, can actually be experienced as judgmental or upsetting.
Learn something new. Show some interest in those around you, and find a way to experience your family from a different perspective. Perhaps this is the year you learn something new about each other.
Take care of yourself. It’s always easier to be your best self when you eat well, are well-rested and don’t drink too much. Take time to exercise, enjoy some alone time and seek out people with whom you enjoy spending time and influence you positively.
And last but certainly not least …
Be grateful. There are always things to be grateful for in our lives, so focus on them. Studies consistently show gratitude is a major booster of happiness. Feeling grateful also diminishes feelings of annoyance and resentment. It’s an intricate part of this holiday, and therefore very useful in taking the stressout of this busy season. It might even good for putting some of the joy back into it, too.
The bottom line is, if you behave differently toward others, you will find that the people around you will behave differently to you — even your most difficult of relatives! Now go make this holiday better than ever.
Dr. Robi Ludwig is a national TV commentator and psychotherapist who practices in New York City. She is also the author of the book “Till Death Do Us Part” as well as a contributor for both Care.com and TODAY.com.