Coping with Strained Family Relationships During the Holidays

Sometimes it is our unrealistic expectations of the holiday season that causes stress and emotional deregulation. Holiday music, comfort food, and cheer do not always bring on the spirit of forgiveness, acceptance, or forgetfulness for those with strained family relationships. It is often the hope of many that the presence of the holiday season will solicit a renewing attitude from the family member who has behaved un-lovingly in the recent past, and often times when this is not the case, we are left feeling even worse about where our relationship stands than before. Expecting apologetic words or behavior from a family member around the holidays when it wasn't present before, is an unrealistic expectation that can leave us feeling increasingly betrayed, lonely, or unworthy. These heightened feelings can cause emotional deregulation that can then spill over to affect our loved ones who are good to us all year around.  These sour feelings can also cause us to become unfocused on our tasks at hand at a critically chaotic time of year. Tasks such as preparing adequately for hosting or hosted events, buying holiday gifts, remaining professionally organized with less working hours as holiday parties eat up company time, and continuing to manage household chores as well as continuing to practice one's health promoting routines can all become increasingly difficult to do with the added stress of false holiday family expectations. Do yourself a favor and do not pick the holiday season for the time of year for expecting loved ones to put their grievances or dysfunctional behaviors aside.

The holiday season is full of advertisements of happy healthy nuclear families all across media. Holiday movies, commercials, and TV show specials are kid friendly and full of warm and fuzzy story endings that can leave us feeling as though our familial issues are much more pressing than before.

It is also the time of year that the friends and non-familial support systems we are use to spending time with are less available as they may be spending more time with their family members, influencing us to potentially look more closely at our less than ideal familial relationships. Community hang out spots may have shortened hours and hobby or social groups may skip a month of meetings in hopes of accommodating people being absent around this time of year. Once again, a reminder that we may not be happy about our model airplane club being canceled for the month as we aren't exactly able to fill that space with spending time with a family members or members due to strained relationships.

So what can be done?

Do not add fuel to the fire- There is no use in further straining an already tense family relationship. When considering confronting a family member you have a strained relationship with, think about how this may affect your relationship with anyone else you may also see around this person during this time of year. Consider that attacking this person for the wrongs they have committed may impact your ability to spend time with another family member you enjoy seeing. If the desire is there to resolve a historically strained relationship, consider waiting until the holidays have passed. After going this long, why not wait a little longer to work on resolving issues without the distraction of added holiday stressors or the input of spectators

Expect that the person will behave as they always do-Because put simply, they will.

Take care of yourself- Stick to the health promoting routines you were already subscribed to. Taking any hiatus from your work out schedule or your nightly meditation will only leave you feeling more vulnerable as something that normally makes you feel good will also now be missing.

Be kind to yourself-Give yourself that extra half hour in bed on the weekends this month, read some low brow entertainment, or watch that campy horror flick; indulge a little.

Avoid overdoing it on the holiday goodies- Trust me on this one, it is easy to go for the comfort food, and you should have some, I mean after all it is that time of year but going overboard on the sweets too frequently is all too easy to do right now, and will only cause your blood sugar to yoyo, your stomach to retaliate, and disturb your sleep cycle which are the ingredients emotional deregulation are made of.

Do something you have been putting off- Why not spend some of the unwanted extra free time during the holidays to get around to that one thing. Is it donating old clothes? Organizing your home office filing cabinet? Getting your car that 60,000-mile check up? Going to the dentist? These types of tasks are never exciting to start but always make us feel good about being productive once they are finished.

Try something new- Experiencing novelty is a full body experience, requiring engagement of all of your senses. We often remember novel experiences because they are unusual and stick out from our daily routines. Do you remember the first time you drove a car? Or rode a bike? Do you remember also being upset about something during that time? Probably not because when you're focused on trying something new you have to dedicate 100% focus to that activity, there is no time to focus on feelings of sadness or anger.

Remember that this too shall pass- The holidays come but they also go and within a matter of weeks all will resume to the pace and normalcy you are use to. Keep in mind that you weren't feeling this way before the holidays began and that chances are you'll be back to feeling more yourself once they are over.

This can be a tough time of year to get through but with realistic expectations, self care, and an understanding that it will not last forever, you will be able to avoid emotional deregulation and enjoy more peace as this holiday season passes.