Are you dreading your family’s Christmas and New Year’s celebrations? Do you view your upcoming holiday gatherings with anxiety and dread instead of warmth and love?

If you do, don’t beat yourself up over these feelings. It’s hard enough to understand and deal with our own emotions. Dealing with the emotions of others can make things doubly difficult, especially during what can be an already stressful time of year.

So many of our problems seem to do with expectations. Do you spend your holiday with your family wearing cozy sweaters, sipping eggnog by the fireside, and singing Christmas carols? I sure don’t, never have, and probably never will.

But, that scene seems to be how books, movies, television shows, and even Christmas-related merchandise portray a family Christmas. We’ve been conditioned to expect Christmas to be that way, when that scenario isn’t true for many – or most – families.

It’s probably not realistic. Many families can’t expect to sing carols and exchange hugs because they’re struggling to talk with each other, maybe even struggling with the decision if they want to see each other in the first place.

Families have history. History may come with a lot of emotional baggage. Families who are struggling can find ways to relate to each other while preserving and helping their mental health. They can consider:

Preparing some talking points

Do you dread interacting with relatives who question your life choices, brag about their kids, or talk about political views completely different from from your own? Prepare yourself for these interactions. For the questioning and bragging relatives, prepare some stories about your own life. Or, ask them about their own lives.

For the political relative, consider looking at some internet sites for neutral conversation topics. Maybe you can learn about history to talk about distant U.S. presidents instead of controversial current political events. Deflecting, not engaging or apologizing, might be a more comfortable route for handling potentially difficult conversations with relatives.

Making specific plans

On a related note, you don’t have to make Christmas an elaborate production. If the prospect of spending a lot of time with the relatives makes you anxious or depressed, limit this time. If your family spends Christmas Eve together, you can make a plan to leave by a certain hour.

If you fear Christmas Day gatherings, consider bringing distractions. You can bring board games to pass the time and serve as icebreakers if you think things may be awkward. You can bring food that needs further preparation (such as heating in an oven) to gatherings in order to occupy yourself and allow you to focus on something other than your family relationships.

Seeking outside help

The internet also has a number of helpful sites that relate to mental health. They offer services as well as advice from people who’ve tackled similar situations. Therapists are also good resources who can help people develop tools to maneuver within their relationships.

Seeking such assistance can help you gain an outside perspective on your relationships and bring new perspectives and coping mechanisms to addressing your family dynamics. Other people can serve as excellent resources. You don’t have to face things alone.

Opting out

Sometimes, not meeting family is the right decision. For example, if relatives’ drug or alcohol use has made them toxic or even abusive, avoiding them can be the best option for preserving mental health.

Remember that you are not obligated to see people who have hurt you in the past and may continue to hurt you if you see them again in the future. If these people try to use guilt or expectations to persuade you to visit them during the holidays, remember that you were strong enough to survive what they did. You can definitely rise above them and their negative tactics again.

So, try to forget your expectations of Christmas and what your time with your relatives should be like. You can take steps to make your holidays – with or without your relatives – merry and bright.

Are you dreading your family’s Christmas and New Year’s celebrations? Do you view your upcoming holiday gatherings with anxiety and dread instead of warmth and love?

If you do, don’t beat yourself up over these feelings. It’shard enough to understand and deal with our own emotions. Dealing with the emotions of others can make things doubly difficult, especially during what can be an already stressful time of year.

So many of our problems seem to do with expectations. Do you spend your holiday with your family wearing cozy sweaters, sipping eggnog by the fireside, and singing Christmas carols? I sure don’t, never have, and probably never will.

But, that scene seems to be how books, movies, television shows, and even Christmas-related merchandise portray a family Christmas. We’ve been conditioned to expect Christmas to be that way, when that scenario isn’t true for many – or most – families.

It’s probably not realistic. Many families can’t expect to sing carols and exchange hugs because they’re struggling to talk with each other, maybe even struggling with the decision if they want to see each other in the first place.

Families have history. History may come with a lot of emotional baggage. Families who are struggling can find ways to relate to each other while preserving and helping their mental health. They can consider:

Preparing some talking points

Do you dread interacting with relatives who question your life choices, brag about their kids, or talk about political views completely different from your own? Prepare yourself for these interactions. For the questioning and bragging relatives, prepare some stories about your own life. Or, ask them about their own lives.

For the political relative, consider looking at some internet sites for neutral conversation topics. Maybe you can learn about history to talk about distant U.S. presidents instead of controversial current political events. Deflecting, not engaging, or apologizing might be a more comfortable route for handling potentially difficult conversations with relatives.

Making specific plans

On a related note, you don’t have to make Christmas an elaborate production. If the prospect of spending a lot of time with the relatives makes you anxious or depressed, limit this time. If your family spends Christmas Eve together, you can make a plan to leave by a certain hour.

If you fear Christmas Day gatherings, consider bringing distractions. You can bring board games to pass the time and serve as ice breakers if you think things may be awkward. You can bring food that needs further preparation (such as heating in an oven) to gatherings in order to occupy yourself and allow you to focus on something other than your family relationships.

Seeking outside help

The internet also has a number of helpful sites that relateto mental health. They offer services as well as advice from people who’ve tackled similar situations. Therapists arealso good resources who can help people develop tools to maneuver within theirrelationships.

Seeking such assistance can help you gain an outside perspective on your relationships and bring new perspectives and coping mechanisms to addressing your family dynamics. Other people can serve asexcellent resources. You don’t have to face things alone.

Opting out

Sometimes, not meeting family members is the right decision. For example, if relatives’ drug or alcohol use has made them toxic or even abusive, avoiding them can be the best option for preserving mental health.

Remember that you are not obligated to see people who have hurt you in the past and may continue to hurt you if you see them again in the future. If these people try to use guilt or expectations to persuade you to visit them during the holidays, remember that you were strong enough to survive what they did. You can definitely rise above them and their negative tactics again.

So, try to forget your expectations of Christmas and what your time with your relatives should be like. You can take steps to make your holidays – with or without your relatives – merry and bright.

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