The holidays are opportunities for family to come together to show their love for one another. Yet many people dread the holiday season. While the holidays promise connection, they can also highlight dysfunction. Whether you’re dreading your Jewish mother-in-law’s comments about where you’ve placed the menorah or you’re hoping to avoid a clash with your own parents about which church you should all attend for Christmas mass, the holidays can be rife with drama. Here are some strategies for avoiding family holiday drama that can help you survive until the new year.

Let Go of Traditions That No Longer Serve You

Traditions can help provide continuity, but if you’re hanging on to traditions that don’t make you feel good, ask yourself why. Why are you serving turkey for Thanksgiving if you hate turkey? Forget making the Christmas kugel if you’re tired of scraping your knuckles until they bleed. If the thought of hearing “I Have a Little Dreidel” again this year makes you clench your teeth, try Barry Manilow instead. And even if your friends give you a hard time about not going out on New Year’s Eve, if what you really want is to curl up on the couch for an SVU marathon, then by all means, give yourself permission.

Create Your Own Traditions

Speaking of TV and movie marathons, who says that staying in and eating popcorn isn’t a valid way to ring in the New Year? It’s ok to start some holiday traditions of your own. If you’re hosting, you get to set the rules. And if you’re tired of making the trek over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house, why not suggest you and your family stay home this year? As your own nuclear family grows, you may find the holidays more enjoyable the less time you spend crammed into a car.

Expect the Worst

As Tris Thorp writes for The Chopra Center, “At some point during the holidays, a friend, family member or houseguest might become increasingly negative.” No matter how mature your relatives may be the rest of the year, something about family gathering under one roof always causes people to regress. Instead of reacting to behavior by defending or arguing, set yourself up for success by expecting the worst. If you know your aunt is going to complain because the baklava’s dry, prepare yourself ahead of time. What if you agreed with her and begged her to bring it next year since you always seem to have so much trouble getting it right yourself? Then next year, you would have one less thing to prepare, and you wouldn’t have to listen to her criticism.

Be Your Best

It’s easy to overcommit during the holidays so try to avoid pitfalls. Don’t have time to make three side dishes and a dessert? Tell your mother you’re willing to buy them. If she prefers everything to be home-made, then it’s her choice to tell you no thanks. You may want to spend all eight days of Hanukkah with your sisters and their kids. By the eighth day you’re going to need more rest than God did after he created the world. Save some energy for yourself this holiday season. Keep yourself a priority by making time to exercise. Stick to your own schedule. Just as there’s no need to overeat during the holidays, there’s really no need to overcommit to events, either. You won’t be able to enjoy quality time with friends and family if you’re exhausted and rundown.

A good rule of thumb: don’t say yes. Either say “Hell yeah!” or say “No.” If you need help giving yourself permission to forge your own way during the holidays, a licensed therapist can help. Maybe holiday stress is weighing too heavily on you, and it would help to get some unbiased support. Give Lisa Ryan a call so she can help you survive the holidays. Call 203-226-8800 or click here to reach me by email.

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