How to enjoy family during the holidays

Hint: It’s all about letting go

Chestnuts are roasting on an open fire, the family is snuggled on the couch sipping hot cocoa and sharing stories of old. Kids are playing a board game and getting along — getting along! Who doesn’t dream of joyfully perfect holiday gatherings? The reality is family relationships are complicated and holiday gatherings can bring about stress, anxiety and maybe even depression. This holiday season, change things up. Here are five tips for enjoying time with family:

1. Let go of expectations. Stop worrying about how things should be, whether it’s how culture says holidays should be, how you remember holidays used to be or how you wish holidays could be. When you find yourself comparing your family with idealized notions of perfect families and perfect holidays, you’re setting unrealistic expectations your family will never be able to meet. Do away with those expectations and remember, your family is your family just the way they are — and you can’t change that.

2. Live in the moment. Going home for the holidays naturally takes people back to old times. Those memories may be good or bad, but they aren’t today’s reality. Live in the present and enjoy each moment. Embrace what this year has to offer and make new memories. Let go of unhappy memories, childhood inadequacies or disappointments about past holidays. If you associate the holidays with a bad time in your life, every holiday season will naturally bring those memories back. Instead look at this year — and each year ahead — as an opportunity to start anew.

3. Recognize something you’re thankful for. Every day leading up to holiday gatherings, stop to think of something you are thankful for. It can be as simple as your favorite Christmas song playing, the light catching on a beautiful tree ornament, cookies baking in the oven. By acknowledging these little things and being grateful for what makes the holidays bright, you are creating new happy memories.

4. Now’s the time to make connections, not break down walls. Even though it’s the season of good will and forgiveness, refrain from bringing up volatile issues in hopes of working on emotional breakthroughs. Instead, focus on your own peace of mind and what brings you joy. Simply spending enjoyable time together with someone you may have conflict with can set the stage for a more positive conversation about difficult issues later, after the new year.

5. Accentuate the positive. While you’re preparing for a holiday gathering, take a few moments to think about the things you’re looking forward to, maybe your aunt’s pumpkin pie or catching up with a favorite cousin, watching a holiday classic together as a family or walking through the neighborhood together to look at lights. If your stress level starts edging up, return to those things you have been looking forward to. Change your focus from something upsetting to something enjoyable to stop stress in its tracks.


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