Family holiday visits: Avoid strife and learn to manage your expectations, time together - by Henry Moore

You might be heading over the river and through the woods to grandma’s, but sometimes that’s a long drive so full of anxiety you feel like you’re Little Red Riding Hood. Your extended family may be the Big Bad Wolf, ready to pounce and cause family strife during your visit.

The holidays are already a difficult time because we feel pressure to make them perfect. 
We want to look like a Norman Rockwell painting, with everyone happy and enjoying their meal. Very few families actually look like that, and even fewer actually sit down to a meal at one table at the same time. Understand in advance that it will never be perfect and that you can’t make everyone happy. Sometimes the best you can hope for is coming out unscathed. 

The holidays and winter can sometimes trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is a major depressive episode brought on by the change of seasons. Having less light in the winter can really affect your mood, which can cause you isolate yourself during the winter months, or even get out of bed. The farther away from the equator you live, the worse it can be. Luckily, there are treatments, including antidepressant medication and light therapy. If you feel you have this condition, talk to your doctor. If you’re in addiction recovery, SAD can make you want to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, which is a bad idea. Don’t let this one seasonal ailment derail your recovery. 

Dealing with Family

You already know how your family behaves, and you can’t really control them. What you can control is your own responses to their words and actions. Rehearse a few responses to the emotional bombs you know will be dropped: “No, we’re not having kids anytime soon,” “Yes, Uncle Steve wanted to come but he had to work,” “Please, lets not talk about politics today.” Some experts even suggest talking to family members in advance to encourage them to support you in emotional attacks. 

If you have a family member who likes to push your buttons, try to be the bigger person. Smile and nod, or just say that you don’t want to get into this right now. You can just say, “Oh, I understand that’s how you feel,” and walk away from the situation. 

Create your own boundaries. If someone likes to meddle in your life too much, it’s okay to not answer them. Just stay a bit aloof and change the subject. Ask the person about his or her life, and try to incorporate a compliment. People love to talk about themselves or brag on their kids. You’ll have diffused the situation and made the person feel good about themselves all in one sentence.

Remember to be a good houseguest, too. If you’re staying with family, keep your area clean and don’t add more work for the host. Imagine that you’re the host and try to think what you would like. Just because your host is a family member, doesn’t mean that he wants to do your laundry or pick your wet towels off the floor. 

Create some activities to keep the family momentum going. If people are just sitting around, they’re more likely to get into arguments. Try to schedule some board games or family outings, let the kids put on a talent show or go outside and play in the snow. Getting everyone involved in a group project will force them to work together and keep family harmony. 

Most importantly, try to enjoy the time you have with your family. If you live far away from them, you likely don’t get to see them very often. Remember how lucky you are to have this family, even if they get on your last nerve sometimes.

Henry Moore

henry_m@fitwelltraveler.com | fitwelltraveler.com

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