Although many people see the holidays as a joyous time it can also be extremely challenging times for others. It is not uncommon for people to lose sight of what the holidays mean for them and instead focus on trying to hit all the traditional holiday expectations (i.e sending out the ‘prefect holiday card, getting a gift for every person in the family,  making those home-made cookies).  It may be beneficial to begin to examine what is and is not working for you in terms of holiday expectations and start to re-assess. Here are some tips to help you navigate this situation:

  1. Set Realistic Expectations:
    • Understand that family gatherings often come with expectations. Acknowledge these expectations and be realistic about what you can and cannot control.
  • “I can join the family gathering, but I need to leave by [specific time] to take care of [specific commitment].”
  1. Communicate Openly:
    • Have open and honest conversations with family members about your needs and boundaries. Express what you’re comfortable with and what might cause stress or discomfort.
  • “I’d prefer not to talk about [specific topic] as it can be stressful for me.”
  1. Prioritize Self-Care:
    • Make self-care a priority during the holidays. Ensure you have time for activities that recharge you, whether it’s meditation, exercise, or alone time.
  • “I know this might inconvenience you, but I need to prioritize my well-being right now.”
  1. Establish Boundaries:
    • Set clear boundaries to protect your well-being. This might involve limiting the duration of family gatherings, specifying your needs, or politely declining certain invitations.
  • “Can we agree to respect each other’s boundaries during our time together?”
  • “I won’t be able to attend [event], but I’d love to connect with you on a different day.
  • “I can join the family gathering, but I need to leave by [specific time] to take care of [specific commitment].”
  1. Delegate Responsibilities:
    • If you’re hosting a gathering, don’t hesitate to delegate tasks to other family members to reduce your stress and workload.
  • “Can everyone please plan to bring a dish to the gathering so we can all enjoy time together?”
  1. Lean on Support:
    • Lean on supportive friends or other family members who understand your perspective. Sometimes, talking to someone outside the family can provide a fresh perspective.
  • “I’m unsure how to handle ___, how would you navigate this with a loved one?”
  1. Accept Imperfection:
    • Embrace the imperfections of the holidays and your family. No family or holiday gathering is perfect, and that’s okay. It may be helpful to use a mantra such as :
  • “I celebrate the messy, imperfect, and real moments of the holidays.”
  1. Gratitude:
    • Focus on the positive aspects of the holiday season. Reflect on what you’re grateful for and share these sentiments with your loved ones! If this is hard, that’s okay too.

Remember that navigating family expectations during the holidays is a process. It’s okay to set boundaries, prioritize self-care, and be assertive about your needs. By communicating openly and practicing self-compassion, you can make the holiday season more enjoyable and sustainable for years to come!

-Katie Karner, LCPC