‘Tis the Season for Emotional Chaos

Are you dreading the holidays or looking forward to them? For many reasons, holidays can create extraordinary stress.

I remember my mother’s annual holiday efforts, decorating the house and preparing food for a Christmas gathering for her three siblings, their spouses, and the children. I was fond of them all and looked forward to seeing them. But they seemed different when they were all together. After an evening meal, the grownups would sit in the family room, occasionally breaking the silence with a comment. No one openly disagreed with anyone, although I don’t believe they were sincerely in lockstep with one another. Sometimes they focused on the television instead of each another. They always departed earlier than our other friends would have. While cleaning up afterward, my mom — who loved entertaining friends — would complain that no one seemed to enjoy the event and would vow never to host it again. She repeated the routine for years…including the vow.

In a friend’s family, two elderly brothers — his wife’s uncles — normally refused to attend events where both were invited. My friend insisted that both come to his house for Thanksgiving, believing that he could facilitate some kind of reconciliation. He sat them next to one another at the dining room table. For his generosity, he got to observe their pettiness and rude behavior firsthand during the holiday meal.

Other families have far worse stories of nasty fights after excessive indulgence and early departures with hurt feelings.

Here are ten tips for preventing emotional chaos during holidays:

  1. If you don’t want to host an event, then don’t. If you invite a rude person, expect rude behavior. 
  2. Be realistic and accept that your ideal might not be realized. 
  3.  When hosting an event, start preparing early so you can be relaxed and flexible when guests arrive. If you’re at ease, they will be too.
  4. Give kindness, even to those who may not be kind to you. A gift is not a trade; don’t expect anything in return.
  5. Be yourself, and be that same self to everyone. Reacting to a difficult person by being difficult is constructing another self. 
  6. Remember that disagreeable people wouldn’t cause suffering if they didn’t suffer in some way.
  7. Old grudges are just bad memories. Stop rationalizing that you are better than someone you don’t get along with.
  8. Don’t fret about negative emotions, or you will double your discomfort. Embrace your uncomfortable feelings; don’t compound them.
  9. Abandon thoughts that bubble up from inense feelings. They are distortions.
  10. Holiday events are therapeutic opportunities. The more challenging they are, the more you can learn about your emotional self.

For great holiday entertainment, watch “The Family Stone,” a story about a family’s emotional chaos during a holiday reunion of adult children. Sarah Jessica Parker won an Academy Award for her performance. 

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