This holiday season can be a joyous occasion for those eager to return to their hometowns to spend quality time with loved ones. For many, though, this season is yet another reminder of the sadness and stress that comes with being around family again. It’s hard to believe that the holidays aren’t a perfect time of year for everyone, especially with the inundating amount of commercials showing quintessential large families laughing around a long, wooden dinner table, food bountiful and smiles never-ending.
This isn’t the reality for everyone, so Macy’s, please stop creating these heartwarming commercials that make me feel inadequate (you, too, Coca-Cola).
Each family experience is complicated, beautiful and difficult in its own way. Instead of feeling like something is wrong with your relationship with family members during what *should* be a happy time of year, know that it’s completely normal.
I’ve thought a lot on what this time means for broken families and how to ease the pain it so often brings. While it may not be possible to completely mend familial ties, there are small things to do to make the season a whole lot more bearable for your mental health. Because at the end of the day, that’s what matters the most.
It’s incredibly important to set boundaries in all aspects of your life, family members included. Talk before you travel home and voice your pain. Your emotions are valid and they should be receptive. If you can’t communicate this with them or if they won’t listen, set personal boundaries. If they break them, remove yourself from the environment. It sounds crazy, but you are what matters most in these situations. If they can’t cooperate, leave.
Dr. Shawn M. Burn writes that there are four crucial steps to take if you are in this situation. First, ask yourself why boundaries need to be set. To ensure you put words into action, the next step is to tell yourself affirmative statements on why boundaries need to be set. Third, acknowledge that this is hard. Setting boundaries is uncomfortable, but a small period of discomfort is better than years of resentment. Finally, allow yourself to feel sad. Setting boundaries often mean acknowledging that the person won’t change despite your best efforts. Grieving is normal. You are allowed to feel.
Spend The Holidays Elsewhere
Ask a close friend if you can spend the day with them. The day is about being thankful and celebrating those around you. It doesn’t mean it has to be family with whom you surround yourself with. Whether it’s spending the day with a friend in town or traveling with a significant other to their festivity, you don’t have to be stuck at home. Renting an Airbnb can be a great option, too, if you just want to get away from it all (no shame in spending the day alone and regrouping). Stay connected with your family and let them know you are OK, you just needed a change of scenery.
Communicate With Other Family Members
This is a big one. Before the big day, communicate with those you’re celebrating with that you’re uncomfortable due to a specific family member. Maybe they can ease the tension or alleviate an argument, if one occurs. Sit next to them at the dinner table for comfort. Sharing what you’re going through lightens the burden and offers you a safe space. This isn’t gossip; rather, it’s preventing it. Expressing that you’re going through a tough time is a healthy way to communicate with loved ones rather than them filling in the blanks. We should be there for each other in times of joy and pain. They may be able to offer insight on who you’re struggling with and how to cope. This can be a very cathartic way to help with the healing process while knowing you have a safe shoulder to lean on in the future.
Bring Comfort Items
Traveling back to your childhood home can be strangely triggering. What might have once been a place filled with loving memories now has scars. To ease the pain, bring items that are soothing. A favorite book, candle, or podcast can be a simple way to effectively recenter yourself in the midst of chaos. Comfort can also extend to friends or significant others. Bringing another person is like having a living security blanket always by your side. Even setting aside a specific time in the day to take a few deep breaths can be a small, positive way to remind yourself that you’re doing great.
Talk To Your Therapist or Someone You Trust
It is so important to communicate how difficult this time of year can be to your therapist or someone you trust. I can’t stress enough how important it is to talk to a licensed professional about how to take care of your mental health this holiday season. Everyone’s situation is unique, so what I’m sharing may very well not work for you. Create a personalized game plan for what to do when tensions escalate. I understand that for many, seeing a therapist is a luxury. If this isn’t in your budget, find a confidante who is receptive and gives helpful feedback. Journaling is also a beneficial way to evoke mindfulness and provide possible heightened awareness on what to do.
Whether you look forward to the holidays or feel an impending doom, check in with your thoughts and feelings. The holidays are not easy for everyone and that’s actually normal. Take the time you need to reset yourself after a long day with the family. As much as we all wish things were different with our close relatives, it doesn’t mean that the holidays are ruined forever. Healing takes time and as long as we’re doing the best to manage our relationships, that’s all we can do.
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