In a report done by the Harvard Meical School, 62% of respondents said that their stress level was "very or somewhat" elevated during the holidays.
Only 10% reported no stress. Another report for the Civic Science Poll said that 48% of US adults had more stress during the holidays and 43% were more anxious.
Only 9% said they experence less stress during the holiday season...9%.
So much for this being the most wonderful time of the year.
I know this isn't surprising to people. Hell, you are living it right? And if you have a child with a special need engaging more with extended family hits all the buttons. Stress buttons that is.
I guess that's why I have that second glass of wine.
But seriously all of this can add up to a lot of stress. And when the holidays are stressful it is REALLY hard to enjoy the celebrating part.
So let's talk about 3 ways you can manage the inappropriate questions, unsolicited advice, and even unequal treatment between members of the family from wellmeaning yet clueless extended family members.
All those wellmeaning comments and adivice...they are irritating. At times they can illicit full on rage, (for me anyway). And I practice empathy when I get them. I remember what Brene Brown says about knowing what someone else is going through - it's not possible. While some of us might be able to get close to understanding another person's experience the truth is it is impossible for us to REALLY know what is happening inside someone else's mind and heart. That goes doubly when the situation hasn't been experienced by the other person. Poor Aunt Carol doesn't stand a chance.
Real empathy is believing someone else's experience regardless what your experience is. That means Aunt Carol doesn't have to understand, she just has to accept and respect. And before everyone hits me up about how their Aunt Carol, or Uncle Jim, or Nana doesn't accept you can accept THEM. This is challenging because usually we are LOOKING for empahty from others. But you have no control over that other person. You only have control over how you respond. And so remembering that Aunt Carol and Uncle are trying to be helpful, and are trying to be relatable helps me respond with more grace and compassion. Which leads us of course to the next strategy...
We don't talk about boundaries enough yet as an expression of love but I'm jumping on the bandwagon. Because they are. An expression of self love AND an expression of love to others. Why? Because you are clearly stating what you need from someone else in order for the relationship to be good. "Clear is kind" (thank you again Brene). This can be hard in some situtations and I get it. It feels uncomfortable and maybe even UNKIND at first but you must rewrite the script on this.
Repeat after me -
Boundaries are helpful.
Boundaries are good.
Boundaries are necessary.
Put that on a sticky note and read it often. If you want to get through the holiday season and get even close to being able to enjoy it you have to have some boundaries.
Boundaries about gifts. Food. Time. Location.
It is really ok for you to do the holiday meal at your house instead of Grandma's because you know your child will be more comfortable there. Even though tradition dictates that Grandma hosts dinner.
It is really ok for you to skip on the 20 person celebration because it's too much stimulation for your kid. Or don't take your kid and get a sitter. Even though every single cousin and second cousin you have will be in attendance for the annual singing of (insert your favorite hymn here).
It's ok to say "No - I can't do that". If you really wish you could do a thing but you know it will create insanity in your life, express that.
"I really wish this was different..." And then offer another suggestion. "Could we do this instead....?" Not all boundaries are hard lines in the sand where you stand there like Gandolf and scream - YOU SHALL NOT PASS!
Which leads us to my third strategy -
Maybe it's just me...but we really can take things very seriously. Often a dose of comedy is just what we need to remember perspective in things. And it is perfectly acceptable to use humor when delievering that boundary if it makes sense.
"Mom, you know our holiday celebrations are more Griswold Family Christmas, than It's a Wonderful Life. Let's embrace it!"
Using humor is a way of difusing a potentially uncomfortable situation so that everyone feels more comfortable. You are allowing space that avoids confrontation. People feel more understood, they are likely not trying to piss you off so when you deliever a boundary with humor they realize that you aren't pissed.
It also makes it less likely that someone will resist the boundary and push. Which makes everything more positive and celebrations can contunue!
Pass the wine!
You know at the end of the day this is really just about being flexible and willing. For both you and your extended families. I know these things don't always happen smoothly. But I do know celebrating the holidays in a way that actually feels good instead of creating unwanted stress improves the quality of your life. And the lives of everyone in your family.
As I continue on my journey finding ways to authentically connect with what I decide to do is becoming increasingly important. I WANT to spend holidays with my family. And I want to enjoy that time. If I can't enjoy it, why do it?
If you need some help coming up with some ideas for how to make things work book an independent consulation today! We can brainstorm the hell out of this! LOL
And if this is something that you are deeply struggling with reach out for some coaching services. Even if you don't work with me get some help with this. There are all sorts of resources to explore depending on your need.
You have one life, do what you can to make it pleasant.