The holiday season can be an exciting and cheerful time and it can also introduce a variety of stressors when it comes to family. Here at myHealth, we talk to young people about how to have healthy romantic relationships and it’s important to acknowledge that maintaining healthy familial relationships can be just as challenging to navigate. Often when we talk about family, we approach those relationships with an “it is what it is” attitude. It can be easy to feel powerless when it comes to relationships with our family, and that can make “mandatory” holiday events feel stressful. Learning how to set boundaries can drastically improve the quality of these relationships and allow us to leave the holiday season feeling more relaxed and less agitated.
To be able to set these clear boundaries, it’s important to first understand what you want to get out of the holiday season. Is it important to see every relative? What about holiday traditions? Which ones are a must and which ones would you be okay skipping this year? Identify the specific characteristics of the activities you like and the ones that cause you stress. Love not having to leave the house because the whole family comes over but hate getting stuck in the kitchen all day? Tell your family you’re excited to host but that dinner will be a potluck this year. Love the cookie decorating contest at your aunt’s house but hate that she always makes a comment about how many cookies you eat? Decide to do a smaller cookie party for just your immediate family or come prepared to say, “actually, Aunt Deborah, thanks for your concern but I don’t want to talk about my weight” and change the subject. Setting boundaries with family can be really hard, but thinking ahead of time about what you want to get out of the holiday season can allow you to approach gatherings with a renewed spirit.
Navigating the events can introduce a whole new set of challenges. Practicing healthy self-care through these gatherings is essential for feeling our best through the season. Here are some suggestions for subtle self-care during a family event:
- Offer to be the person to run to the grocery store if you run out of an ingredient (and do an extra lap down the aisles for some more alone time)
- Offer to take the dog for a walk
- Organize an activity to do with the kids if certain family members are getting on your nerves
- Escape to the bathroom and do a 5-minute meditation
- If alcohol affects you negatively, choose not to drink, or to drink less during these stressful events
- Plan an event (real or made up) that starts right after the family gathering so you have an excuse to leave the gathering on time
- Come up with short and concrete responses ahead of time for unwanted questions you know you might get from family members
- Practice saying “I’d prefer not to talk about that”
- Give yourself permission to get up and leave the table (or the event!) if you need to
After a family event, be sure to plan a day of rest for yourself where you can relax and recuperate. You could write affirmations in a journal, do activities that make you feel good or ask a friend to text you some nice compliments for you to look at if you’re feeling down. Whatever you do, it’s important to be gentle with yourself and give yourself time to recharge.
You may also decide that family gatherings are not in your best interest this year. It is okay for us to set boundaries that prevent us from having to be around relationships that are unhealthy for us. In these times, finding a chosen family can be an empowering way to fill that void. Look for friends that support and uplift you in the way you desire and set aside time to celebrate the holiday season with them. Whether it is a dinner, a party, an afternoon watching your favorite movie together, or a simple exchanging of cards, celebrating the important people in our lives during the holiday season can help us feel valued and loved in a season that can be hard for many of us.
Happy holidays, and remember- if you feel like you need to talk, or need more tools, we’re here and ready to listen.
– Emily M