I’m going to say it; the holidays and family are a lot. They were a lot before Trump became President, they are on a whole new level of a lot this year. Since November 8th, I have had many conversations with clients and friends about how difficult it is to understand the divide after the election. How does one metabolize that their values and politics are so different than the people they learned about values and politics from? It’s one thing to be angry and judgmental of that “somebody” out there in middle America who voted for Trump because they are “ignorant, uneducated, or racist,” but what happens when the somebody is your mom, dad, favorite uncle, sweet grandma? Where do you put that? I don’t know! But here are some tips on coping with the holidays…
- Agree to Disagree: Perhaps we can accept that Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, Hanukkah, and other holidays may not be the most effective time to hash out political differences. Setting limits as a family beforehand can be a helpful, productive way to navigate this murky landmine. For example, deciding as a family that politics are off the table, agreeing to help each other stay on track by holding everyone accountable and letting anyone attending the celebrations know in advance your home is a politics-free zone. The holidays are already often loaded with emotions running high, this may just not be the time or the place. That doesn’t mean having these conversations isn’t crucial to staying connected to yourself, your values, and your family, so definitely do make the time.
- Don’t judge yourself: Criticizing yourself, resisting reality, or invalidating your emotional experience only makes things worse. When we feel shame, self-judgment, and guilt for the emotions we are having we create additional suffering. Even if you don’t like the emotions you are having, or wish you weren’t having them: you are. Accepting yourself completely as you are and validating the emotions you are having as having valid causes helps to give us ownership over our experience. Often, we say things like “Be positive, everything is going to be great!” That may not be true and your soul knows it. “I shouldn’t feel anxious about going home, I am lucky I have a family, I have so much to be grateful for.” It is likely true that you have so much to be grateful for, AND you’re anxious, dude! One doesn’t cancel out the other. Allowing ourselves to be where we are and validating our experience decreases suffering, while judgment and criticism or trying to demand ourselves to feel different than we do increasing our suffering.
- Have a wing(man/woman/human): Family can be challenging; did I already say that? Having an ally, a trusted friend or partner can help quell the stress and anxiety. Guest holiday goers are great buffers too! People are usually more generous and more self-preserving with there is an outsider at the dinner table. It is also helpful for accountability, having someone who knows you in your adult self may make regressing into your 16-year-old self less likely, and/or accessible. Friends are also validating, it is helpful to have someone around to reality check your experience with, for example “that was crazy yeah?” or “Was I out of line when I responded in that annoyed way to my dad after he asked me to explain gender pronouns again, for the 10th time?”
- Have an Overall Objective: How do I want to leave this holiday feeling about myself, my family, and my behavior? Having an overall outcome that supersedes all other petty quips, frustrating moments, or difficult interactions is a complete game changer. It is your north star guiding your highest self to remember the objective even when mood, other people, or unforeseen circumstances make justified anger look desirable. Think about how you will feel after you have gotten through this holiday and crushed it, let that drive your commitment when there is let’s call it, interpersonal bait?
- Have an Exit Strategy: We are planning for a successful holiday season here people, by using these simple but not easy strategies, and we are not in control of anyone by ourselves. Having an exit strategy even if you never use it, helps increase feelings of autonomy and confidence while decreasing anxiety and worry. Have a car, or a cab number on hand, and a plan for bowing out gracefully if need be.
- Walk Through the Worst-case Scenario: Coping ahead is about imaging all the things that could potentially be difficult, go wrong, or get in the way, and then coming up with ways to effectively deal with them. We visualize ourselves getting through these difficult experiences and have a plan for if they happen, which surprisingly takes a lot of the power away from the worry thoughts. I will often ask people what they are most worried about happening, what the worst-case scenario might be, and they don’t know. In their minds, it is just bad, real bad. Taking time to really think through it in a tangible way not only makes the worry specific rather than global, it also works to create exposure to the worry by thinking about it in a practical way. So let’s go there, the thing happens, now what? People are often surprised by how skillful they can be while imaging coping with this scary situation. I also always ask people to rate on a scale from 1-10 how likely is it that this will happen as a way to reality check the worry and the intensity by measuring probability.
- Don’t Wing it! Have a plan and know your limits. Know how long you’re staying, what you plan to do while visiting, and any activities you have in mind; “groupthink” family activities are a recipe for conflict. I usually suggest using the 48hr rule with family events, even when I am at hour 47 and I’m like, this is great, everyone is getting along so well, I don’t want to leave. Without fail, come the 48hr mark it’s time to go. I also have a great family who I adore and thoroughly enjoy spending time with. If you are flying over multiple states you may need to adjust this and use another strategy like breaking up your time by seeing friends, day trips, or group activities.
- Self-Care on the Road: There is a very interesting experience people have when travelling or adapting to a new environment which is daily practices often fall off. It’s interesting from a mental health perspective because we need self-care even more, not less, when we are adapting, out of our comfort zones, around sometimes intense historical triggers or on the road in a constant state of flux. Our self-care may be the only constant, and a really effective way to stay grounded. I usually suggest committing to 3 daily practices, journaling, meditating, checking in with yourself, exercising, taking breaks, schedule time to be alone, going for a walk, connecting with your spirituality, and connecting with your people.
- Be Brave, Be Generous, Be Kind: You are doing the best you can. Your family, however limited some folks may be, are doing the best they can too. Showing up to these events or showing up in other ways that are meaningful to you is both joyous, and at times painful. Some people choose to spend the holidays with their family of choice, some people don’t have family to spend the holiday with, everyone has a different experience. This is a time of year where there’s a spotlight on what you have, and things you may not have or wish were different in your life. Be gentle with yourselves and with each other. Life is a lot, we are all in this together.