As we enter into the holiday season, some of us may feel increased levels of stress as we begin to wonder what family gatherings are going to include. Will there be political arguments around the dinner table? Will we be able to feel safe with our families? Will we eat in silence to avoid stepping on anyone’s emotional toes, or will we throw caution to the wind and say whatever we feel and let the chips fall where they may?
Is it possible to enjoy a peaceful Thanksgiving with family?
In dealing with our emotions it is important to find healthy ways to reconnect with our support systems, find a sense of peace within ourselves, and move forward. So as we prepare to give thanks and jump fully into the holidays here are some tips to get you through in one piece.
Tips for a Peaceful Thanksgiving with Family
Lean into Your Faith
One way that this can be accomplished is by placing your faith in your higher power. I have found that prayer and meditation can be really helpful in coping with fear. When you can put your hope and trust in something larger than yourself, it is easier to see how your troubles and or fears are not larger than your God. Now your focus has shifted from your problem to your God.
Let Go of Situations Not in Your Control
Another great coping skill is to take inventory of what you do and do not have control over. If something is under your control, then you have the ability to impact it, but if things are outside of your realm of control, you have permission to allow things to unfold as they may. Worrying about things that you do not have control over will not change the situation.
Surround Yourself with Positivity
Positivity is infectious. When we are surrounded by people, places or things that make us feel safe, taken care of, or just plain happy, we are in a better position to feel happy and light-hearted. While reconnecting with family, friends and yourself, be sure to take time to engage in interactions that are positive. This could be as simple as a phone call or text conversation with someone positive in your life, or even as involved as volunteering in your community in order to bring some positivity into the lives of others.
Set Healthy Boundaries
Setting boundaries is often more difficult than it sounds. When we set boundaries we are clearly stating that our feelings and emotions matter and that we are willing to protect ourselves, even if that makes other people uncomfortable.
Focus on the Positive
One way that this can be achieved is communicating to others what the focus of the holidays really is: loving one another. Gatherings do not have to focus on the negatives that divide us, but instead can be used as a time to celebrate the positives and focus on the things that make us feel connected. So instead of sitting by quietly when the first verbal bomb is dropped at the dinner table, be the one to remind your family that the reason that you all have gathered together is to spend the day being thankful for one another.
Get Comfortable Saying “No.”
Another way to set healthy boundaries is being OK with saying, “No” – a short but powerful word. You have the right to not be forced to engage in activities or conversations that unnecessarily increase your level of stress. Saying no does not have to be mean or confrontational. A simple matter of fact response of “No, thank you” is often times met with understanding and opens the door to move on to the next topic or activity.
Focus on Family Traditions
Holidays are full of great traditions that tend to bring a smile to our face as we scroll through old family gathering photos. I have found that some of the best stories happen when families engage in time honored traditions and begin to pass those traditions down to younger generations. Maybe it is teaching someone the secret family recipe for yeast rolls, fussing over which football game to watch, or the picking of the perfect Christmas tree to cut down. Whatever it is, enjoy it to the fullest. This year, instead of getting caught up in negativity and or disagreements focus on the things that have historically brought joy to you and your family.
Limit Unnecessary Stressors
Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but some stress can be limited or eliminated altogether. Look for places in your life that are adding unnecessary stress and begin to remove them as needed. This may be as simple as limiting your contact with high stress topics, not watching the news every day, or limiting how often you log on to social media. It’s OK to step back take care of your own needs.
Engage in Self Care
As a doctor, one thing I am constantly telling my clients is that they have to take care of themselves, if they want to continue to take care of others. We are not able to pour into others if we feel empty ourselves.
Self-care can be as simple or elaborate as we make it. Some great self-care activities are having quiet time to pray or mediate, soaking in the tub, taking a walk, reading a book, dancing as if no one is watching, or just giving yourself permission to do nothing at all. Whatever way you take care of yourself, make it a non-negotiable part of your life.
Love People Where They Are
Love is a very powerful emotion, but it is an equally powerful tool. I have come to find that love is just as much a verb as it is a noun. We have to choose to love sometimes, even when people are not very loveable. If you find that your family or social circles have rather different views than your own, you have to make a choice on whether or not you can love them despite your differences or if your differences are too big of a hurdle for you to get over.
No family agrees on everything – be it politics, religion, or if there should or should not be giblets in the gravy. We have to learn to not throw the baby out with the bath water and learn to love people. Love has the ability to heal so many wounds and begin to open doors of communication.
Be Willing to Remove Yourself
If worse comes to worse, you have the power and the right to remove yourself from toxic environments. This could be as simple as going into another room or as involved as calling it an early night.
You have to be willing to voice your concerns if the atmosphere is feeling charged. Agree to disagree with people and let them know that you are willing to talk about other topics, but if they feel a need to continue a particularly high stress topic let them know that you are just going to remove yourself. This is not a threat nor is it an ultimatum. It is simply you choosing to not lose focus on why you are gathering with family, in the first place, and also choosing to take care of yourself.
In closing, the holidays should be a time of rejuvenation and connecting with family and friends. We have to be careful to protect ourselves and our homes from the storms that can so easily come in and disrupt the flow of lives. So this holiday, instead of avoiding, hiding and hoping that the storms pass, be proactive in reconnecting with the people you love … and especially reconnecting with yourself.
Bernice Patterson, PhD received her undergraduate education at the University of Michigan, master’s level training at Wheaton College, and her doctoral level training at Western Michigan University. She is also a licensed Baptist minister and participates with Faith Community Outreach, an initiative that seeks to connect area clergy, churches, and ministries to services available from Pine Rest. She works with patients at the Kalamazoo Clinic.