The start of Spring means that Easter and Passover are upon us, and that many of us will be spending time with immediate and extended family. For many of us, this can cause a lot of tension and anxiety. Time with family can reopen old wounds and heighten current stresses. Sometimes there are big upsets and sometimes there are small conflicts that arise year after year, with no clear resolution in sight. Yet there are strategies to getting through the holidays without getting too overwhelmed.
Here are some tips to help make your next family gathering less stressful:
Breathe! It will be over soon.
Don’t expect miracles. If your anxiety stems from a deeper history of family conflict, don’t expect that you’ll be able to resolve big underlying issues now. You may be better off focusing on your own wellbeing and confronting difficult issues in a less hectic setting.
Notice what’s different. We often turn back into teenagers around family, falling into old patterns from a time when we didn’t have agency or psychological insight. Especially when old wounds reopen, we tend to revert back to old coping patterns. Remember that you’re no longer an adolescent, but an independent, rational adult.
Plan ahead. Knowing that you may be faced with anxiety or that you may get angry means you can protect yourself from unrealistic expectations. An example might be expecting that “this time things will be different.” Use experience as a guide to check your expectations. Then, you can make a mental list of events that are likely to occur that will upset you (for example, Uncle Bob will drink four bottles of wine; Mom will comment about my weight, Dad will gaslight me before dinner, etc.) so that they won’t be as jarring when they come up.
List your coping strategies for dealing with anger. Identifying how you can alleviate anger is essential to not letting family gatherings derail you. Think: I can excuse myself, take a walk, do deep breathing, go to the bathroom, remind myself to stay in the here-and-now, stretch to release tension, call a friend, leave at a set time, etc.).
Reward Yourself! After your family gathering is over, plan on doing something nice and relaxing to celebrate keeping your cool and not fanning the family flames!