If you find that ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ is instead filled with tension, you’re not alone.  Certainly, we are in a new place, both socially and emotionally due to the impact of Covid on our lives. But the angst and dread of the holidays may still feel painfully familiar.

Difficult situations can quickly arise when negotiating time spent among loved ones, and tensions may mount over concerns of past conflicts re-igniting or of new ones emerging. Add in a little too much “merry-making” and issues of addiction and inappropriate behavior can sneak up on you, too.  While each is stressful on their own, these events are then co-mingled with what are supposed to be joyous and happy celebrations, often making survival the real goal of the holiday season.

Here are some suggestions for handling these difficult situations – and getting through this year’s holiday season of togetherness – unscathed.

Identify the Problem – Are you concerned about cutting short your time with an ailing relative? Do you worry about the impact of Uncle Stan’s drinking on your teenage kids? Is your sister always dragging you back into childhood conflicts? Whatever is causing you anticipatory stress, it needs to be revealed for healing to take place.

Have a Plan – Think through your situation and decide what is best for you over the holidays. If you have a spouse or child, consider their interests as well. Then talk about it with someone you trust to give you both feedback and support. While your ideal solution may be impractical or overly selfish, it helps to start out by knowing what you want and identifying what matters most to you. Once you do, making a compromise or stretching your comfort level will have a clear purpose and intent.

Expect it – While it may seem foolish to worry about something that may not happen, it’s on your mind anyhow. Expecting the problem means having a contingency plan. Perhaps it’s to leave the house if Uncle Stan starts drinking, or to plan to respond to your sister’s provocation by saying “I want to enjoy our time together, please let’s not argue.” Being prepared will help you to feel happier and more confident leading up to those difficult encounters.

Enlist an Ally – Your spouse, or another relative/loved one (who will be with you over the holidays), can prove to be a valuable asset as you navigate difficult waters. Explain to them the problem, or anticipated issue, and your plan for coping with it. Then ask for their assistance. Let them know if you’d like them to intervene, come to your defense, or simply provide moral support should the situation occur.

Share Your Decisions – Often conflict ensues when a person’s actions or behaviors are surprising and misunderstood. To prevent your self-preservation strategy from causing new issues, keep others informed of the decisions you make. Let your mother know why you’ll be spending a disproportionate amount of time with your in-laws this year. Tell the host/hostess that you plan to leave if Uncle Stan starts drinking or your sister becomes unrelenting in her conversations with you. By letting others know your boundaries, you help them to honor them.

We hope these ideas help, and that your holiday season will be a whole lot brighter as a result.  Wishing you good health, and Happy Holidays!