Family Stuff: Surviving the Holidays


With Thanksgiving just around the corner and the next month full of family get-togethers, gatherings, and visits, the stress might already be building. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a family bashing post. But family + the Holiday season can equal stress and anxiety for some. And while we always try to remember the reason for the season, let’s be honest, it’s difficult. There are some days I wish I could go into full on hibernation mode or jet off on a warm vacation for one a la Four Christmases around the Holidays. The stress usually starts with the gift giving discussions around mid- November. Who’s getting what? Do you have a list? We start to forget before the Holidays kick off the meaning of giving.  Then it snowballs into arguments over dinner locations, who is traveling where and when, church service times, black friday/after Christmas shopping.

Having experienced some less than jolly events in the past, the below are my thoughts around changing my mindset and surviving the Holiday’s, keeping my sanity in check.  They seem like no brainers, right? That’s what the Holidays can do, folks. You forget even the most basic survival skills!

Your Holiday Survival Guide:

1. It’s OK to say “No”.
Up until last year, the word No wasn’t part of my vocabulary. I was great about running myself ragged and leaving no “me” time to decompress and relax. “If I say No, I might make someone feel bad.” And yes, yes you might. But it isn’t your problem how someone might react to you taking care of yourself. Newsflash – you are allowed to take care of yourself! Most people understand, more than you might think. Most people want to be like you; they want to say No, too! Can you realistically make it to all five parties in one evening? Do you have to buy gifts for every third cousin and aunt twice removed? No you don’t.  Give No a try this season. And if you can’t, don’t beat yourself up. See #5.

2. Ease up on the Alcohol.
So I know I joke quite a bit about how alcohol can help ease the Holiday pain. And believe me, a tall glass of Red does in fact soothe the nerves and clear the mind. But any more than one glass, and you could be in for trouble.  Remember the phrase “Loose Lips Sink Ships”? We don’t always say what we really mean under the influence of a few Poinsettia shots or glasses of Spiked Eggnog.  If you’re keeping something buried deep down inside that needs to be said, the Holidays are not the right time and place for the saying. If your emotions get the best of you while drinking and you are known for spilling your guts, don’t booze it up.

3. Get some Exercise.
If your major source of stress relief is exercise, make time for it over the Holidays. Yes, you might have to arrange it around the family schedule. You might even have to get up early or excuse yourself in the evenings for an hour in the basement. Don’t feel bad; you need it. If you have relatives in town, ask them to join you. A lot of gyms have weekly passes. You can get your workout in AND entertain your family at the same time by dragging them along!

4. Have a Plan.
I will tell you, when it comes to vacation, there is nothing I despise more than a plan. I want to stay up late, sleep in, lounge around in the morning with spiked coffee, and ease into my day. But if you have family in town or you’re home for the Holidays, more than likely your family wants to spend quality time with you! Don’t wait until arrivals to make plans; start early. This way you can make sure tickets for certain events are still available and ensure there aren’t any of those “I told you so’s” that are well known for beginning the old brouhaha between family members. Oh and if you do this, I guarantee you’ll be able to build in that day of relaxing in those Christmas PJs!

5. Forget Perfectionism.
For some of us Type-A’s (myself included when it comes to anything event-related), our major source of stress is needing to have everything go perfectly. If you are hosting, the house must be pristine! The decorations must be the best on the block. The dinner must consist of the most mouth-watering dishes. The gifts must be neatly gift-wrapped with matching bows, ribbons, and tags. Phew, have I exhausted you yet? I can keep going! Because yes, perfectionism is exhausting!

Ease up on yourself. I know that nagging feeling about getting it all done in record time will be in the back of your mind. It’s in mine right now, too. Ask for help. Prioritize your list, and if the bottom items don’t get done, they don’t get done. They are at the bottom for a reason. Give yourself (and everyone around you who you are also stressing out – yes you are!) a break. Breathe.  Relax.  Laugh. Aim for grace, not perfection. You’ll enjoy the Holidays so much more, I promise.

6. Lower Expectations.
It’s taken me a long time to even begin to apply this snippet of knowledge, so I won’t fault you for questioning my madness. I have high expectations for myself; refer to #5…..again. Good, right? However I also have high expectations for everyone around me. Not so good. I’ll give you an example. Compared to most NoVA residents, I am a damn good driver (thank you always Mr. DeSimone).  I can navigate this Northern Virginia/DC traffic like a boss. I assure you though, there is nothing special about my driving abilities. I use turn signals. I check my mirrors. I try my best not to ride your ass in the left lane when you are well under the speed limit.  Basic driver stuff, yes?  So I expect at all times for those on the road beside me to be doing the exact same thing – using turn signals, checking their mirrors, and moving out of the left lane into the right lane before I begin flashing my lights at them.  HA! Sadly, this isn’t the case. I encounter the world’s worst drivers on a daily basis, and after 10 years, I still seem surprised by it. Are you laughing at me yet? You see, I still continue to have high expectations of the drivers around me.  But these hazards on the road, they don’t know about the ridiculous expectations I have put upon them.

Your family is like the drivers. If you are like me and have high expectations of yourself, you probably also have high expectations of your family. And more than likely, you haven’t shared these expectations with them. So when someone in your family doesn’t act how you think they should be acting, you lash out at them or make them feel bad. You expect for them to act, say, and do ABC and they have the nerve to go off and act, say, and do 123. Expectations are dangerous things; they are sneaky little bastards – life ruiners, really. How many times have you had a plan in your head of how something should go, and it went the complete opposite way? Or worse, didn’t go at all? Yep, it’s those expectations once again getting the best of you. The Answer? Don’t have any. Wipe them away. Go into everything with an open mind and clean slate. Has Uncle Eddie acted like an asshat for the past five years? Do you, each and every year, hope he acts like a decent member of society? Don’t waste time putting your silent expectations on Eddie. Just roll with it, and thank your lucky stars you only see Eddie once a year.

If you remember anything at all from this wordy novel, remember this – at the end of the day you can only control your actions and reactions to the situations at hand. So take care of yourself first and foremost. This way you can stay present in the moment and truly enjoy your Holiday family time, even if you have a Cousin Eddie!

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