How A Holiday Family Gathering Can Be Less Stressful

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Does your holiday family gathering brings stressful memories?  As you grew up with your family, you developed an ingrained pattern of behavior and a set of responses that are hard to break—no matter how old you are.  When you return to this setting, it is quite natural to revert to the same patterns of behavior that you had as a child.

Family Dynamics May Not Change

It is very common to revert to the roles and behavior patterns you followed when you were younger.  If, for example, you were the baby of the family, you still may be seen as the sibling that needs extra help, and your parents may still not feel you have quite matured, no matter how old you are.  If you always teased your siblings growing up, when you get together with these family members, you may revert to this behavior pattern, regardless of how mature you have become in your adulthood.

Before your holiday family gathering, take some time to reflect on how you can behave to break the old “you” behavior pattern.  You are a grown adult now.  Don’t perpetuate any sibling rivalries by falling into the old pattern of competing with them.  Accept that your family members may show favoritism.  Don't expect any family members to have changed or to behave any differently than you have experienced in the past.  You can avoid a lot of anger and hurt feelings if you except the reality of the holiday family gathering and not look for a lot of changes.

Develop New Conversation Patterns

Before the holiday family gathering, take some time to prepare some topics of conversation.  

  1. Report on your news and events that you and your children and/or friends participated since you last saw your extended family. Bring some photos to share. This conversation topic will contrast your current life and personality with the former role you played when you were younger.
  2. Identify some of the nostalgic moments you enjoyed with members of your extended family. What times did you share that were memorable and fun to relive?
  3. Express some opinions that show how you have matured and may be quite different from the ways you used to think.
  4. Avoid topics of controversy and topics that cause hot-button responses.
  5. Talk with members of the extended family with whom you get along, and don’t feel guilty if you shy away from other members who you do not enjoy. You are looking for ways to build memories you want to keep, not causing more stress in your life.

Define Your Own Rules of Engagement

If your holiday family gatherings are less than peaceful and enjoyable, try to make this year different. Decide that this year, you will take charge of your own behavior, not revert to old patterns, and make the event as positive and enjoyable an experience as possible for you and everyone else.  You are the one in charge of your own responses.

Don't have any unrealistic expectations for how the day may go. Just attend the gathering and try to have a relaxed day. Knowing that there is an end to the event often reduces the stress level. And if you can limit the time your family members can comfortably spend together before there is friction developing, the better you will enjoy the event.

Don't feel guilty about your negative anticipation towards having to attend these holiday family gatherings.  It doesn't mean you don't love your family, and you are certainly not alone with these types of feelings.  Often people find family gatherings difficult to enjoy and very stressful.

Keep your sense of humor. Look at some of those events as a place to gather humorous stories to tell at your friend's holiday cocktail party.  Expect some poor behavior; just make sure it isn’t yours.

Stress Management for the Holidays

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