Keep Calm While Surviving the Holidays
The holidays are a trigger-fest for many of us. The lack of structure and sleep, too much time with relatives we may or may not enjoy, not enough space from our kids, stress about money and gift-buying, travel delays and inconveniences, painful memories or anniversaries… the list goes on and on.
When we’re triggered, our buttons get big, bright, sensitive, and super pushable. As we all know, kids love to push buttons, especially when they’re triggered by overstimulation, too much sugar, lack of schedule, bratty cousins, or a day that ends in y. Whatever the reason, they see our bright shiny button, they push, we lose it, and then we get to deal with the judgmental stares from cranky Aunt Karen. More egg nog, anyone?
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. It is absolutely possible for you to be the least crazy person at the holiday table.
The first step towards surviving the holidays is identifying and acknowledging your triggers. This requires you to go a bit deeper than just joking that the holidays are hard. We all know they’re hard, but how are they hard for you? What, specifically, increases your tension and stress and sets you off? Maybe it’s the lumpy bed at your in-laws’ house, Uncle Ted’s racist jokes, being stuck inside all day watching crap TV, or the way your kids go completely bonkers when they stay up too late.
Once you’ve got your list (may I suggest a scroll?), the next step is to do what you can to limit the triggers you can control and take care of yourself as much as possible so you can handle the triggers you can’t without losing your temper and your mind.
Get out of the house and go for a walk. Put the kids (and yourself) to bed on time. Go in the other room and read a book or play cards with your kids instead of zoning out in front of that terrible show. Don’t go crazy with the menu, unless doing so really makes you happy. Opt of the day-after brunch and head home early.
If you can, talk to your spouse, siblings, or other supportive family members ahead of time and make a plan for how you can take care of yourself. Do you need to trade child-care shifts so you each get a little downtime? Do you need to stay in a hotel instead of at the house? What else can you do to support each other?
Some of your family members or guests might not be happy with your choices. They might wonder why you decline their invitations to hit the dawn doorbuster sales or stay up late drinking and reminiscing about the horrors of high school. And that’s ok. They can be cranky and judgmental. It’s not pleasant, but neither is losing your sh*t with your kids.
As I tell my daughters all the time, you worry about yourself. Each time you do that, you’ll be a step closer to staying calm in the midst of the chaos.
Carla Naumburg, PhD, is a clinical social worker and the author of How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t With Your Kids.
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