10 Tips For Preserving Holiday Mental Health

Too often, the joy of the holiday season gets overshadowed by family drama and stress. But you can say no to this drama and stress. It’s powerful to both shift your perspective and sometimes yield to others (particularly when you're more bound up by the drama than the actual parameters of the situation). Today I'm writing with my clinical social worker hat on; here are ten tips for preserving your holiday mental health:

1. Lower the bar

Keep expectations for certain family members realistic and know what triggers you. Instead of hoping that the one family member who insists on making cutting remarks might actually behave at the family dinner, brace yourself for the remarks and remember that the comments are likely more about that family member than they are about anyone else.

2. Take a walk or brush it off

You don't need to suffer through an unpleasant situation. Be okay with walking away from a situation that is unpleasant. And if you can't walk away, again, just remember that the comments are less about you than the person issuing them and brush the comments off.

3. Avoid awkward surprises

On more than one occasion, I have presented my family with a surprise over the holidays that I knew they might not be thrilled with, but in my heart hoped they'd react happily to. WRONG. Follow your instincts and bring up personal matters outside the group setting.

4. Be a team

This may sound cliché, but in a family where sitting together for six hours can only lead to tense moments, have a task that everyone can instead focus on. Make food preparation and cleanup a family affair. Volunteer together at a shelter. This kind of thing really will help the family feel like a team; a subtle but crucial way to enhance the spirit of "togetherness."

5. Avoid participating in the drama

Think about your own role. Yes, there may be other pot stirrers, but are you also contributing? Don't be the bearer of the drama and avoid the trigger person if need be.

Tips for preserving your mental health during the holidays

Tips for preserving your mental health during the holidays

6. Take preventative measures

You'll do well by entering a potentially stressful situation in a more relaxed state. Do something that relaxes you (e.g., yoga, reading a book, taking a walk) before the family event so you arrive in a cooled off state.

7. Drink smart

For some, enjoying a glass of wine at a stressful dinner helps facilitate an easygoing, stress-free "so what?" attitude. For others, alcohol can create anger or sadness and reactivity that is best to not trigger at an event you know may be stressful. Know your boundaries here and respect them.

8. Try to cut your family some slack

The reality is, your family is your family; likely replete with a complex history, and each person with their own challenges and frustrations that may come out at other people. No matter how much certain family members may annoy or hurt you (or judge your career or shoe choice!) remember that any unpleasant behavior is probably coming from their own hurt.

9. Nurture your happy relationships

At a time when you may need to work on negotiating challenging relationships, don't forget to nurture your positive relationships as well. Set up separate coffee dates with family members or friends with whom you have solid, supportive relationships.

10. Remember you're not alone. And that you can't change people

Finally -- and perhaps the most important tip to keep in mind -- remember that you are not alone. Everyone experiences stress this time of year; the key is to remember that you can't change people -- the best you can do is adjust your own response.

This year, remember to love hard and judge less, to bite your tongue and soften your blows, to feed the belly well and feed the soul well. Happy holidays!