4 Tips to Survive the Holidays, Whether You Have Family Trauma or Not

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This holiday season is shaping up to be the craziest we’ve seen in a while. If you gather with loved ones, there is a good chance of seeing an empty place at the table. If you have been vaccinated, you might have lost that convenient excuse for why you didn’t want to see certain people. There will be more expectation to travel or receive guests and you are probably out-of-practice. The littlest kids in the family might not know even close relatives. What if coronavirus made you realize that absence did not make the heart grow fonder?

Many people who didn’t attempt to gather the family last year will try to plan something this year. For the adults I meet with, their childhood memories can add to the complicated nature of this season. Family gatherings might have been the one day of the year when they saw a beloved grandparent, one who made them feel special when their parents didn’t. Family gatherings might have been the time when they couldn’t avoid seeing an abusive cousin. Maybe you can relate? This year, I’m encouraging everyone to rethink which traditions and rituals they resume, in the interest of true joy during this season. Here are some suggestions to cope better during the upcoming holidays.

1: Don’t try to see everybody at the same time this year.

It’s okay to prioritize your time with the people who you choose and postpone visits with others. Just because you literally, physically “can” see everyone who asks doesn’t mean you ”must.” And you don’t have to prioritize a close relative if you’d rather see a friend. No one can be in two places at once, so start with the people who energize you.

2: Listen to your body, and ask it questions.

Look, we can all talk ourselves into and out of things. But notice-how does your stomach feel after you talk to Aunt Mary? Do you get a headache just thinking about swinging by your friend Joe’s house? Your body may be telling you something valuable; what is it saying about how it wants to spend the holidays? Honor that and get around people who you feel great with. After the last 2 years, don’t you deserve that? (You do.)

3: Take a moment to get honest about what traditions matter to you, and which ones don’t.

In my family tradition, Jesus’ birth is celebrated on December 25th with candy canes, games, and lots of food. But in reality, not even Jesus’ family or friends celebrated Him on that exact day or in that exact way. So, if they’re off the hook for that, you are too. Now, what about this season ACTUALLY matters to you and how can you get more of that? Do you need to visit family on the 26th so that you can afford the flight? Is a 6 hour dinner and dessert with everyone too long? Could you just take your nephews to the movies on another day instead? How can you decide on purpose what actually makes this season special for you and make that happen?

4: Never do something you hate just because it’s “your turn.”

If your sister hosts a 4 course meal from scratch on her best china and you burn water, don’t try to match that. Play to your strengths, host your way, ask her to host and offer to come early to deep clean, get it catered, or do something totally outside of the box. Don’t get trapped in comparison or old expectations

Bottom line, COVID-19 has shaken a lot of us up like an old-school etch-a-sketch. We’re rethinking work, rethinking fun, rethinking relationships. Take this opportunity to redraw the holidays in a new way for your own peace of mind. And if that peace of mind still seems harder to find than before, you know how to reach me.

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