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5 Tips for Preserving Your Sanity Through the Holidays With Your Family

We all wish for the movie holiday experience, but it very rarely happens. More frequently, we get together with our families and old patterns start to emerge. Your father gets on a political soapbox, your daughter drinks too much, your mother is critiquing every little thing that you do...whatever the trigger is, it is usually a powerful afront to how you see yourself and the world. Before you know it, you are playing your part in the dysfunction, rehashing old wounds, and the night ends on a sour note. If this is a familiar story, try the following tips this holiday season to preserve your sanity.

  1. Remember You Are Not Responsible For Your Family Members. It can be embarrassing and enraging to watch a family member act badly, especially if their bad behavior targets you. The most important thing to remember in these situations is boundaries. You are not the behavior police, and you probably aren't going to convince someone to change. So, remind yourself that their behavior does not say anything about you, or the person that you have become. If it helps, carry a small token that reminds you of this. For example, a friend of mine carries a small plastic monkey (from the barrel of monkeys game) in her pocket to remind herself of the idiom: "not my monkeys, not my circus."

  2. Take Short breaks. This skill works best if you are able to stay in tune with yourself and your emotions. If you notice negative emotions rising up inside it might be a good time to temporarily remove yourself from the situation. Volunteer to do a last minute trip to the grocery store, or take a short stroll around the block. Time alone can help you remember your center.

  3. Use an Ally. If you have a partner or sibling that can step into a conversation and redirect things, or help you find a break, use them. It sounds silly, but develop a code with this person (a hand gesture or phrase) that indicates that you need help. It can be refreshing to know that you are not alone in preserving the peace.

  4. Gift Your Words or Your Craft. In a consumerist culture, we put a lot of emphasis on gifts as representations of feelings so it can be pretty hurtful when we receive a gift that does not seem like it matches our personality. Overall, it has made gift-giving incredibly stressful and expensive. One thing that can't get misinterpreted is a heartfelt expression of your feelings or something that you made. Writing a letter expressing how much a person means to you (no matter how cheesy), or making something (no matter how imperfect) shows that you gave that person the most valuable gift of all: your time and thought.

  5. Have a Flexible Definition of the Holiday. This may take a little mental gymnastics, but essentially it is just reframing what you consider the holiday to be. For example, instead of Christmas being gift-giving or dinner think of it more as the quiet hour you spend with your significant other, or the time that you spent with your friends the week before. Allowing your definition of the holiday to be flexible takes the pressure off you to make a particular interaction happen, and allows you to enjoy the sweet moments that already exist in your life.

Hope these help! And of course, if all else fails, talk about it with your therapist.

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