Ahh, the holidays. And family. And patterns of behaviour that never change. Your mother makes you feel fat. Or skinny. You always fight with your brother. Your sister bugs you about driving a nice car. How can you survive holiday conflicts and come out feeling good about yourself?
While you are running around getting ready for the holidays, spend a little time thinking about the mental traps you fall into, and what you can do differently. Plan ahead your response to comments you find toxic.
“We have to work to predict what will be difficult for us based on our history with the family, and make a plan,” says Merryl Bear, director of the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) in Toronto.
NEDIC staff posted a helpful document on their website called “Coping with the holidays.” It’s written for people with eating disorders, but many of the tips are applicable to anyone who feels vulnerable at this time of year.
“Family get togethers are difficult for many of us, regardless of whether we have a psychological illness or not,” says Bear. “Always think in the holiday season, people are not going to change.”
It’s easy during family events to put the needs of others ahead of your own. Here are some tips to rejuvenate:
• Plan which events you will attend and which you won’t. It’s OK to say no.
• Plan to have restorative time for your own needs: Go to a movie, turn off the phone, or take a walk.
• Visit or call a trusted friend. You can even let this person know ahead of time that you may need to do this.
• Buy yourself a present.
• Plan to do volunteer work or join an interest or support group if you are likely to feel lonely, empty or depressed. Build some structure into your holidays.
If the holidays are difficult for you, it’s important to spend a little time thinking about which people make you feel uncomfortable and what to do about it.
Do you want to avoid these people altogether? Predict what these people might say to you. Plan your response, and even practice saying it.
NEDIC recommends saying positive things to yourself. Before events, think “I am entitled to …” During events, “I can handle this.” After events, “I did very well.”
For instance, you might say to yourself after an event, “I can see that my sister is upset, but it was important that I take care of myself.”
Remind yourself that you are a worthy individual and are entitled to respectful behaviour.