As local therapist, Alyson Jones, writes: “If we want to prepare for a meaningful holiday season, we have to be honest that we will experience feelings of frustration and stress…” In her blog post More Joy and Less Stress this Holiday Season, she highlights the importance of managing expectations. Otherwise, with all the pressure and opportunities for conflict, the idyllic holiday gathering could turn “into a hot mess of emotion with tears of frustration rather than joy.”
2) BE CURIOUS
Conflict often emerges because people feel unheard or disrespected. If you sense a potential flare-up at the next family gathering, “try to understand what is important to the other person and how they feel.” As Amy Robertson puts it in her blog, “Instead of making assumptions, ask questions.” She even gives detailed advice for how to do that: “Try to avoid questions that include ‘why’ as they can be perceived as judgmental or challenging. A simple option is to say ‘tell me more about this.’” Not only will this make them feel heard, but it will validate their feelings—disarming a potentially upsetting situation.
3) PRIORITIZE WHAT REALLY MATTERS
One of the most stressful aspects of Holidays is subtle pressure to visit everyone—all the relatives and all the friends. If you don’t prioritize, then it’s easy to get caught in a flurry of activities. Lori Frank, a Mediator from Vancouver Island, gives a helpful suggestion: “Sit down with your partner or if you’re separated sit down with your kids and figure out what matters to you.” Pinpoint a few close relatives to visit or, if you decide quality time is important, make plans to relax at home with some Christmas movies.
4) DON’T BE A BACK-SEAT GIFT WRAPPER
In other words, try not to be that person who constantly blesses others with advice. Holiday family gatherings should be about building relationships, not about optimizing your brother’s dishwashing routine. Similarly, as Alyson Jones points out, “if someone is giving you advice that you do not want, just politely express your appreciation for their ideas and move on. Do not dwell on this.”
5) START NEW TRADITIONS
Familiar holiday traditions are only magical if they’re associated with joyful memories. A recent divorce, separation, or loss of a loved one, can taint them—overshadowing joy and familiarity with grief or loneliness. That’s why Lori Frank recommends starting new traditions. She writes, “involve your kids, they probably have lots of great ideas and it will help them in their grief as well.”
6) HAVE HEALTHY GIFT GIVING LIMITS
Or, as Lori Frank puts it, “gift giving is not a competitive sport.” Though it might boost your ego to know you’re giving the best gifts to your kids, the drawbacks probably outweigh the benefits. The bills will mount up, the pressure to “keep up with the Joneses” will never relent, and it might cause unnecessary conflict with your partner or ex. Lori offers some practical advice: “if you are divorced, have a conversation with your ex about setting a gift budget at each home.”
7) MAKE PLACE CARDS
You’re already putting so much time and effort into the food, so why not work on cultivating the right mood? Research shows the design of spaces we occupy significantly affect how we handle conflict. Aside from adding a nice touch to the décor and making you seem considerate, a carefully planned seating arrangement can significantly improve the likelihood of amicable conversations. It might also reduce the likelihood of flare-ups, ensure moody teenagers are happy, separate troublemakers, and keep heavy drinkers away from the spiked eggnog.
8) BE GRATEFUL!
At the risk of sounding cliché, isn’t gratitude the heart and purpose of this season? We don’t just spend time with friends and family because we’re obligated; we do it because, we’re thankful for their many contributions to our lives. There’s no better way to handle the ups-and-downs of holiday stress than by maintaining a steady posture of gratitude. Not to mention, as Alyson Jones reminds us, “we all want our loved ones to be grateful for us so it is important that we remember to be grateful for them.”
9) ACKNOWLEDGE VARIOUS POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS
When the time comes for resolving conflict, follow Amy Robertson’s advice: “be flexible and think of at least two ideas or suggestions to move things forward.” Resolving conflicts often takes a bit of creativity, but with a bit of effort, you might find solutions that meet both party’s needs.
10) SHARE YOUR ELDER CARE WISH LIST
Have you been taking care of elders this year? Family Caregivers of British Columbia wrote a helpful blog post with tips for reducing holiday stress. One of them was to “ask family or friends to provide respite care or give the person you are caring for a change of scenery.” Otherwise, you might not get much needed R&R to avoid burning the candle at both ends.
11) MAKE “CONFLICT RESOLUTION” A NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION
As faithful friends who are dear to us gather near to us, it’s not always easy to have a Merry little Christmas. Long-ignored conflicts might re-emerge with a vengeance, which can lead to arguments, nastiness, or possibly, a break down of relationships. These underlying tensions can’t go unresolved forever but they don’t have to be resolved mid-Turkey-dinner. That’s why Lori Frank makes a helpful suggestion: “acknowledge them and make a plan to address them after the holidays are over.”
12) GIVE THE GIFT OF A COLLABORATIVE GAME
Collaborative board games have been gaining ground in recent years, and for good reason. Not only are they fun, but as Vancouver Lawyer/Mediator Sharon Sutherland writes, they’re healthy. “Finding ways to compete together rather than exclusively viewing competition as win/lose offers an opportunity to shift our unconscious biases.” A good example is Zombie Fight or Flight, “designed by conflict resolution professionals specifically to meet the need for quick play collaborative games in families.” Read Sharon’s blog post to see other examples.
13) GIVE THE GIFT OF RESTORED RELATIONSHIPS
Material gifts are great, but they don’t last forever. Restored relationships, on the other hand, can have ripple effects across multiple generations. So why not pledge to help pay for someone else’s mediation session? In her blog post, Amy Robertson (a mediator) tells the story of a request she received to provide mediation services for a family:
Last December a parent gave their family members the gift of mediation. An adult child had so much hurt built up with another family member they could no longer communicate or be in a room together. The gift was an opportunity for them to work through their issues privately with a neutral person to see if they could find resolutions that would work for them.
Amy’s mediation services were that “gift.” She was asked to mediate and, as a result, an agreement with boundaries and a timeline were drawn up.
For the rest, visit us at mediatebcblog.com