For many of us, part of the problem with spending time with our families at the holidays is the hugely frustrating difference between how our families might be and the reality of how they actually are. Perhaps your mom is passive-aggressive and you wish she could speak kindly; your dad’s patronizing and you wish he could be supportive, or your Uncle Jerry calls you a tree-hugger for caring about the environment. Feeling unheard and disrespected can be just awful.
That said, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, we don’t go to the holidays with the family we want, we go to the holidays with the family we have.
Some people can shrug off moments like this and move on, but folks who struggle with depression often can’t. If you have this particular vulnerability, these seemingly small psychological events can linger, noticeably diminish your mood and, in a worst-case scenario, trigger you into a depressive episode.
I’d like to share with you some techniques I’ve learned over the years that can help you emotionally protect yourself from these types of situations.
- When dealing with a difficult person, hold an awareness of the wounded little child inside them.
Difficult people are usually acting out their childhood wounds and disappointments from long ago. The trick with this exercise is very simple. The more you envision and feel the hurt little kid inside that asshole – who was very likely alone, confused, unloved or hurt – the less likely it is that this person will be able to trigger you or push your buttons.
- Create a persona that will go to the party for you.
If this idea intrigues you, read this short article to get a better sense of how it works, and then start brainstorming. Perhaps you could go to a party as your inner diva – that might be fun! Or you could invite your inner good-time Charlie or your mischievous little kid to go to the party for you.
- Know where the exits are.
Rooms carry energy, and going outside breaks the charge of whatever energy might have been dragging you down. It might not even be that anything in particular “happened.” Depressive folks are sensitive, and we pick up and hold all kinds of stuff. Simply put, nature has an amazing ability to soothe us.
- Hang with the family pet.
Like nature in general, animals calm us down and increase positive feelings – they can even raise our self-esteem. So, if you’re in a house with a dog or a cat, use them!
- Focus on people you love.
This may sound obvious, but try to spend more time with those people in the family that you really love, or that you have a history of easy interactions with. If you find yourself stuck in a conversation that’s bringing you down, excuse yourself to go to the bathroom and start fresh with someone else.
- Practice the mindful art of witnessing
There is something known as mindful witnessing which has been incredibly helpful for me in the past when I’ve been in emotionally challenging situations with others. It’s especially good in situations that feel repetitive, like everyone involved just keeps reading from a script written years ago.
- Exhale through the mouth.
Exhaling slowly through the mouth activates the vagus nerve, responsible for what’s known as the relaxation response. This exercise is truly your best friend in any stressful or potentially triggering situation.
- Practice self-care after parties. What you do in the 24 hours following a family gathering might be more important than anything else on this list. If a gathering has triggered you in some way, just try to find a little time and space with yourself where you can cry. Then, let your tears do their cleansing work. I recommend this article on why crying is beneficial.
Use your intuition to see which of these techniques you’re most drawn to, and experiment with them next time you find yourself at a challenging holiday gathering.
To read more about this and other ways we can nurture our best self-care and positive mood during the holiday’s most challenging situations, download my FREE eBook: “The Little Holiday Rescue Guide.”