As the holidays approach, I notice my clients start to voice some dread. Anticipation is a nicer word. They anticipate hosting certain family members. They anticipate the work involved in serving multiple, fancy meals around which people have ridiculous expectations. They anticipate trying to connect with relatives who have either disappointed or disrespected them in past gatherings. So, what to do about all this dread and anticipation?
1) Fill your bucket to the best of your ability during these weeks of over-exposure to relatives. If you usually work out twice a week, plan to work out four times a week. If you usually meditate three mornings a week, plan to meditate daily. If you usually get six hours of sleep, plan to get eight hours of sleep. Journal more. Take more breaks than you think you need, away from family members.
2) Remind yourself that this period of time is brief and then it will come to an end. It is not your “normal” life. It is a brief reminder of how you once may have felt in your family of origin. Therein lies the rub for some people. Most of us, however, have grown up, matured, and evolved into a better version of our former selves. Oftentimes, our relatives and even our own parents are not very familiar with this improved, updated 2.0 version of us. This leaves us straddled uncomfortably between then and now. But remember that you’re only visiting this awkward terrain briefly and then all of you will return to your “normal” lives again.
3) Remember that the fastest way to feel better is to serve others. Figure out how you might do a favor or a chore for one of your relatives, a neighbor, or a friend during this busy Thanksgiving week. Extend your services to your frail aunt or your finicky grandmother. Surprise them with a specific, genuine compliment. Or offer to do a task, such as picking up a few bags of ice or chopping all the celery and onions. Stepping outside of ourselves and dipping a toe into what might make someone else’s day better can help relieve negative feelings. It’s hard for our brain to simultaneously feel helpful and anxious.
4) Ask specific questions of someone with whom you barely share a connection. Target one member of your extended family, approach them at the right moment, and fire away. Ask them questions in the spirit of coming to know them more genuinely. Are they a reader? If so, do they have any books to recommend? Do they like to cook? If so, what are their favorites? Do they ski or run? If so, what are their favorite locations? Plan to know them more deeply for having sought them out one-on-one. That bit of depth will forever make things slightly more comfortable between the two of you. Research tells us that the greatest predictor of overall happiness and longevity are the quality and quantity of authentic connections in our lives.
5) Take breaks. Give yourself permission to meet your own needs first. I first wrote this piece in 2018 and I can see how much I have evolved since then because in re-reading this, I noticed the glaring absence of this piece of advice. Some of us introverts lose steam after just half an hour of socializing. Fine, allow yourself to step outside and take a quick walk around the block (alone) before reconvening with the group for more socializing. Taking care of what you truly need will help you enjoy yourself without becoming depleted. Always take care of yourself first.