Weddings and holidays bring out the best and worst in people, right? Every year around the holidays and certainly right after, those in the mental health field, like myself, notice a surge in the need for care. Existing clients need more support, new clients come knocking, and the hospitals/emergency rooms experience an influx of people in crisis. The common thread? Family.
Yup. The very thing we celebrate and look forward to around the holidays is often the same thing that tips people over the edge. Even on a very basic level, most people can relate to this concept. It could be anything: family coming to stay with you for a period of time beyond your comfort zone, a relative that drinks too much and says colorful things, heated political differences, and even deeper seeded, traumatic family history. You want to get together but can’t stand the constant line of questioning: “When are you getting married?”, “When are you having kids?”, “What ever happened to (your ex)?”, “Did you put on weight?”, “Are the kids baptized yet?”, etc. Cue the eye roll and the reach for another glass of wine…
I put together a mini guide of things I’ve suggested to clients (and friends!) over the years that have proven to be helpful in minimizing the negative effects of the holidays and (hopefully) maximizing the more positive parts of the season.
- Know thy triggers. You’re family. Chances are you already know what is coming and who it is likely coming from. When you have realistic expectations of others, you’re less likely to get really upset when they prove you right. Have a response locked, loaded, and ready to go. (Or, if possible, avoid the trigger as much as you can.)
- Bob ‘n’ weave. Give a quick, prepared response to the individual and turn the conversation to them. People love talking about themselves! Ask about them, their job, their dog, anything you know they would engage with you about. If possible, after the quick exchange, go “see if so and so needs help in the kitchen” to prevent the conversation from returning to place you’re trying to avoid.
- Grab your exit buddy. (Yes that is a Disney reference. I’m around children all day…). If possible, come up with a plan with a spouse or sibling ahead of time. Think of it as the process so many people use for a safety net for a first date. Have them call you, ask for you help in another room, or change the topic. I’ve had people come up with “safe words” to use with their spouse to get them out of awkward encounters and it really can deescalate situations before they ever really start.
- Take five. When you get heated, sad, or annoyed, take five minutes to yourself. Take the dog out for a potty break or if all else fails, go sit in the bathroom for five minutes. Take a moment to go inward, breathe, and focus on something positive and calming. Mindfulness at its finest.
- Reward thyself. Set up something just for you when it’s all over. Either the night after everything is over or the next day have some sort of self-care set up to un-do any negative aftermath you’re feeling. The worst thing we can do to ourselves is to let things fester, so take care of number one.
I sincerely hope you all have the greatest holiday season and have no use for any of these tips, but in the event life gets in the way, I hope you find these to be helpful in making things just a little bit brighter.