It is too late for me, but you can still save yourselves. Just do a (safe) U-turn wherever you are and head back home. For those that are hosting family celebrations – switch all your lights off and sit in the tub for a while. The knocking will soon subside and you will be able to come out. Do it now while there is still time. You will thank me later.
I have to admit that it flabbergasts me a bit to see people dreading such (theoretically speaking) a beautiful time of year. It seems that we all want the Christmas atmosphere (peace, love, kindness and understanding) around our celebratory dinner tables, yet not many of us get exactly that. If we all dread awkward conversations, then should we not start them? Do we all have someone in our families that just likes to wreak havoc for no particular reason?That might be the case, indeed. They have their own reasons, but those are far from the Christmas spirit once executed.
As a kid, I vowed to myself to make this season magical, i.e. with no stress, and just pure bliss. However, I still find myself visiting those who destroy those plans. If you are like me – you will be dining (and spending more time than you might like) with some questionable people, then keep on reading, and maybe a shred of your sanity will remain intact. (For those of you who will tell me to remove myself from such situations – sometimes life is more complicated than that, and you choose not be selfish 100% of the time.)
A few years ago, the Journal of Experimental Psychology published a study that revealed that stressed animals worked harder to push the lever, which released treats. The animals which were not stressed did not work as hard. This can be translated into our everyday lives, but especially now – when we often work ourselves crazy, thinking we will unwind once we get some much deserved eggnog (or whatever floats your boat). Yes, we might want that reward, but it turns out, that it is not as satisfying as we expected it to be. The animals that worked harder likes the reward just as much as the ones that were less stressed and worked less hard (wanted it less). How fair is that?
If you are wondering if that really translates to humans, I am here to tell you that it does. The study also looked at humans. One group had to try and hold their hands submerged in cold water to receive a scent (I know, right?!) chocolate as a reward, while the other group held their hands in warm water. The one in cold bit their teeth and did everything to receive the reward. The control group did not care as much, since they did not have to work for it as much. However, when it came to the enjoyment of the scents, both groups liked it equally. The hard-working group did not feel any added benefits. What does that mean? It means that just because you work that much harder during the Christmas season, your reward will not be that much sweeter. So let it go! Do not push yourself to the limits. Take it easy.
The caveat here, though, lies among each and every one of us, because you cannot deny that sometimes things just taste better than they do during other times. Supposedly that depends on how we perceive it (i.e., if we see alcohol as medicinal in certain situations vs. a reward, it might taste differently/ better).
Have you ever felt misunderstood during a family discussion? Have you ever thrown a mini – tantrum, or just even rolled your eyes while talking to your parents at the Christmas table? Such things sure happen to me, and I have to admit that they surprise me. I consider myself to be a reasonable and a composed adult on a daily basis. Not every debate I get into gets heated (at least not on my part), but with family, things are different. Why? The study of psychology tells us that is regression – a coping mechanism. Who likes to hear that they are regressing? Surely not me!
Whether we like it, or not, we are creatures of habits, and we also remember things for a long, long time (even if we forgave). We might not even be aware of some of our scars, but the truth is that even as adults, we might feel like kids when faced with our parents. Any situation can remind us of situations and talks that we had tens of years ago. Being transported to such times evokes childish reactions (i.e. eye-rolling, etc.). Leaving home, we leave behind things that we did not enjoy, and coming back home puts us right back into such situations. Sure, it might take a little bit of time (niceties), but the real family ties WILL come out.
It is not just the people that bring the worst in us, but also scents, sounds and places. They can easily trigger autobiographical events, making us react less than ideally. “Unfortunately, leading independent, adult lives doesn’t necessarily mean that our parents don’t still see us as children. This in turn can put pressure on us to please them, an instinct that isn’t always synonymous with self-care. Caught in the mindset that looking out for ourselves means disappointing loved ones can cause guilty feelings to surface.”
How is this supposed to help you? Like with anything else – I hope that once you learn the mechanism, you are able to explain why you do the things you do, which in the end will make you change your ways (or at least care less about them). I hope that it makes you realize that you are your own person, and even though you are trying to please your parents (or other people), you should take care of yourself. Who else will?
If possible, stay somewhere else than at home. If your parents insist on you staying with them, while you know you will need your alone time when the times get tough, say “no”. Try and explain your reasoning, so they know it has nothing to do with them (well, at least not directly).
Taking about our feelings is not always easy, but bottling them up for an extended period of time among your family can cause an even greater disaster. If there is no one at the dinner table you can really talk to, put a friend on speed dial (or text them if no one sees). I personally talk to myself in my head when I am beyond frustrated with my family. Knowing that I am not able to change them, I can only cope.
Try and foresee potential stress, so you can intercept them and celebrate Christmas more on YOUR terms.
A few last minute tips:
- Do not sweat too much about gifts. We all go through the same issues – we do not have enough money to buy everyone the best present there is, we do not have the time to shop for a family of 50, we do not know what to get our uncle’s grandfather’s brother’s grandchild, etc. It is kind of late, but you can still do it – go buy the remaining gifts, or do not. Whatever makes YOU happy. Do you want to spend your final Sunday hours on buying random things that will end up under a blanket of dust in no time?
- Christmas is buzzed to be the best time of year – the happiest, spent among plenty of family. However, we often forget that not everyone is fortunate enough, or wants to spend it that way. I myself am part of the club. It is a bitter-sweet time, and there are times when I want to be alone. So please, do not push your agenda onto everyone around you. They might not want to celebrate it the same way as you do. And if you are the one that feels left out, fear not – do what feels right for YOU. Take care of yourself. Remember that there is no right way to celebrate.
- Let go of perfection. Chances are that something WILL go wrong. Do not sweat it. The more you stress over doing it right, the more disappointed you will be when things do not go according to plan. If you allow for imperfections and some spontaneity, you might find magic. No one will remember the dirty table cloth, or the wrong gift choice, but people will remember how you made them feel.
- Be yourself. You might want to try and please your partner, your parents, etc., but if you’re not true to yourself, your mask might soon crack, and you will end up hating yourself. Also, remember that others do not always know what you think. Hence, tell them what you need/ want. If you are spending Christmas with your partner, as well as your/ their parents, remember to foster the relationship between you and your partner, instead of defaulting to the family & outsider situation.
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