The holiday period between Thanksgiving and New Years are said to be the “happiest time of the year.” Everyone gets drunk on joy and laughter while snuggled up by the fireplace, exchanging the year’s tales with friends, family members, and sometimes even complete strangers. The weather gets colder, the workload gets lighter, and we all embrace the holiday spirit. It’s the most wonderful time of the year…. Or is it?
Despite the pretty picture that is painted, for many people, the holiday season is actually the loneliest and most stressful time of the year. From current financial strain to family dysfunctions, the holidays can amplify existing problems, introduce new issues, and pressure us to do better next year. Because of this, it’s no surprise that research shows mental health problems increase this time of the year. So how can we establish a healthy mindset for the holidays and upcoming family gatherings?
Family Stressors During the Holiday Season
Whether it’s an aunt with a laundry list of complaints, an uncle with no decorum, or that one louder-than-necessary cousin who can’t stop drinking, family gatherings have a reputation for creating annoying and uncomfortable situations. Family gatherings can also elicit a range of responses besides stress, like sadness, isolation, and grief. Gatherings bring together a lot of different people with different motivations, expectations, and sometimes a history of hurt. This opens a can of worms for comparison and conflict, making it more difficult to get along.
Creating Habits for a Healthy Mindset
Getting your mind in the correct space will allow you to truly enjoy the holidays, regardless of what factors are involved. By cultivating a healthy mindset you can put the focus on the people you love and not on the things that cause you stress. Here are a few ways to do that!
Set Boundaries Before You Arrive
Setting an agreed-upon boundary prior to the gathering is essential. This may be something like deciding how long you will stay at the function, not fully engaging with a certain person, or whether or not to drive separately for an escape plan. This can also include thinking about the topics you are willing to discuss with family, especially things that have caused arguments or hurt feelings. Having communicated these plans ahead of time will help manage expectations.
Stick to Neutral Topics
Sticking to the theme of topics to discuss, this may be more than just a boundary. If you know there will be a person at the holiday gathering who loves to debate or finds interest in hearing others' views on certain events, it may be best to steer clear. Not every subject is appropriate for conversation, especially in a group setting where there are sure to be lots of opinions. If you get involved in a conversation that makes you feel uncomfortable, politely excuse yourself.
Spend Your Time with People Who You Love
Everyone needs a party buddy! It’s always helpful to have an ally at the function who you know will always have your back and support you in the best way. Bring a close friend or stick to the person you know there who will be that support for you. You don’t need to get involved and invested with every single person there to have a great time.
Source: Samaritan Health Services (2021) Adjust Your Mindset for a Happier Holiday Gathering
Source: Amy Morin (2022) 5 Ways to Manage Your Mental Health During the Holidays, According to a Therapist