7 Stressful Holiday Situations — and How to Deal
by Maria Del Russo
Sure, the holiday season can be a fun time of year. There are parties, gift exchanges, and enough days off of work that you can actually sleep in and enjoy yourself. But along with all of the excitement, the holiday season can also be seriously stressful. Those same parties aren’t all that fun when you have five to go to in a weekend. Gift exchanges can turn awkward if you receive a gift from someone you don’t have something for in return. And those days off of work? Shot to hell when you’re spending them at home with family members who won’t get off your case.
So if you’re headed into this holiday season with a ball of stress on your shoulders, take a breath. There are plenty of ways for you to get through the next few weeks totally zen and seriously blissed out. Ahead, we talk to Rachel Sussman, LCSW, a relationship expert and licensed therapist in New York City, about handling the not-so-good moments of the holiday season. Armed with these tips, you’ll have days that are merry and bright instead of stressful and never-ending. With that said, here’s what to do when…
Your Aunt Constantly Asks About Your Dating Life
We all have that one family member who can’t stop prying into our dating lives. You can be talking about gingerbread men, and Aunt Theresa will somehow figure out a way to turn that into an inquisition about who you’re dating. Or, if you’re in a relationship, you might get bombarded with questions about the future — when you’re getting engaged, whether you want kids, and on and on and on.
For situations like this, Sussman says to take a two-pronged approach. “Have a canned response ready, and then change the subject quickly,” she says. Planning what you’ll say in advance will diffuse any stress that you might be feeling, making the situation that much more palatable. You could say something like, “I’ve been seeing a few people here and there, but I’m really just having a great time with my friends at the moment. How was your trip to Spain, by the way?” Don’t leave the statement dangling, Sussman says, because that gives the questioner the opportunity for a follow-up. By immediately asking a subject-changing question, you establish your boundaries without being rude.
Your Dad Won’t Stop Mentioning Politics
“This is bound to happen around the holidays, simply because of the time we’re living in,” Sussman says. But if you and your family members have wildly different views when it comes to politics, it can easily turn holiday cheer into holiday dread. It’s a good idea, then, to have another canned response in your back pocket.
Try and tread lightly at first, and see if you both can tackle the situation from both sides. Thoughtful and open political discourse can help other people to see where you’re coming from. So if you feel comfortable with it, then chat politics. But “If you feel like things are getting heated,” says Sussman, “you can say something to diffuse the situation.” That could be something along the lines of “let’s not ruin the mood with talk like this! Let’s celebrate the good things we have in common.” The second things start getting ugly, however, you can shut it down. It’s important to recognize when arguments aren’t progressing and take a step back. You can’t always change a person’s mind — especially when booze and sugar are involved. Better to move on quickly before the argument becomes futile.
You Bump Into Your High School Ex At Starbucks
Is there anything worse than the nonsense chit-chat that comes when bumping into someone from your past? This can be tripled when it’s an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend. But it’s important to remember, Sussman says, that you don’t have to participate. “It’s very easy to just say hello and then move on,” she says. Be pleasant, but don’t feel like you have to offer up a play-by-play of your life since graduation. If it feels like they’re trying to rope you into a longer conversation, it’s perfectly polite to excuse yourself. You can say something like “If my mother doesn’t get this coffee in the next 10 minutes she’ll give me a lump of coal in my stocking, so I’ve got to run. But so good to see you and be well!”
Your Parents Won’t Stop Nagging About Your Future
There’s this idea that we can’t take a hard line against our parents. In reality, though, it’s perfectly acceptable to set your boundaries. “Let them know that you appreciate their concern, but that you are perfectly happy with where you are in your life,” Sussman says. “Explain that you are an adult and that you don’t need a lecture.” You can update them on all your accomplishments from the past year and goals for the next while also asserting your independence. Just make sure to be kind — they are your parents.
You Keep Regressing Into Bad Behavior With Your Siblings
This happens all the time, according to Sussman — no matter how old you and your siblings are. The more time you spend together, the easier it is for you all to fall into old patterns of behavior. Arguments start, insults fly, and before you know it, you’re stomping up to your room and slamming the door like you’re in middle school.
The best way to deal with this is to give yourself some space and diffuse the situation as best as you can. Take a deep breath, go for a walk, or simply change the subject to something lighter that you can enjoy talking about together. If that doesn’t work, you can choose not to engage, Sussman says. “It’s difficult, but you can choose to step away from the situation instead of participating,” she says. It’s actually very easy to spot when you’re regressing — you’ll feel exactly like you did when you were a kid. So if you find yourself in that situation, do what you can to avoid getting heated, and try not to involve your parents. “That just perpetuates the cycle,” she warns.
Someone Gave You A Gift — But You Don’t Have One For Them
Is there a worse feeling than receiving a gift only to realize you didn’t get something for the person in return? You feel all sorts of ways. But there is an easy way out of this — and it doesn’t involve lying and saying you have a gift waiting for them at home. “That’s the worst thing you could do,” Sussman says. “It’s incredibly transparent.”
Instead, just be extra gracious and say thank you. “You don’t even have to acknowledge the fact that you don’t have a gift for them,” Sussman says. If you’re thankful and kind, that in and of itself can be a gift to the person. Most people don’t care whether or not you have a gift to give in return. Just file the situation for next year, so you remember to add that person to your list.
Your Uncle Keeps Commenting On Your Eating Habits
This situation is seriously upsetting and annoying — not to mention embarrassing and possibly triggering. “It’s never right to comment on how much or how little someone is eating,” Sussman says. But not everyone is cued into social graces. So if your uncle won’t stop commenting on your decision to go back for seconds, or keeps mentioning that you’re eating very little, diffuse the situation as much as you can. “Smile and say ‘Thank you for your concern,’ and then move on,” Sussman says. “If they really were concerned, they wouldn’t comment in front of other people.” If the person continues to harp, just do your best to ignore them.
Sussman says it isn’t worth it to pull them aside and say something. “By not acknowledging their questions, you’re signaling that it’s an inappropriate conversation to be having in public,” she says. There is one caveat to this, however. If the person is someone who you have a close relationship, and their language is particularly triggering for you, have a chat with them post-holidays. Get into why that type of conversation is derailing for you, and ask them to pull you aside in private in the future if they’re truly concerned.