December 14, 2015 8:38 pm
Updated: December 15, 2015 6:07 am

Tips for keeping the peace with family over the holidays

Don't lose your cool around the holidays.

AP Photo

Holidays can be a busy, fun, stressful time. Emotions at times run high, and fights with loved ones by light of the menorah or Christmas tree are unfortunately common.

Here are some tips to navigate the holidays smoothly.

Forget about the ‘perfect’ holiday

It’s important people give themselves permission to have the holiday they want — not the holiday they think they should have, according to Kathleen Deck, a counsellor with Family Service Toronto.

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“It’s true that for many, people have specific expectations about how a holiday should be and that might be based on traditions or their own personal history of things they really loved or of things they missed and really longed for,” said Deck.

“Often the stakes are high for people around how the holidays are going to go. That can increase people’s vulnerability to feeling disappointed or frustrated or anxious, and that can set things off.”

People need to accept that things change, let go of the “shoulds” and re-focus on what is realistic for their family situation.

“It can be helpful to adjust our expectations and keep focused on what’s important to us, instead of getting pulled into what we think should be happening.”

Start with yourself and set an example

It’s important to remember and focus on what you do have control over, and try to find a way to have a positive influence on the family dynamic.

“Sometimes it’s not going to be in your power for there to be peace,” said Deck.

“Depending on how other people behave and are interacting with each other or interacting with you, you can’t necessarily control how they are behaving.”

What you can focus on is your response, and have a plan in place to cope.

“Anticipate that you may start to feel like a child and having some ways to remind yourself of your adult identity. You tend to be more resourced and have a better perspective on what’s happening and what choices are available to you.”

She suggests having a friend you can call or text if you get stressed, stepping away from the situation whether it’s for fresh air or to another room, or practice some sort of meditation.

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Monitor your body for signs of stress, such as being tense and or quickened breathing.

“Just planning to have some way to ground yourself can be useful.”

Pick your battles

Set limits for yourself before you get drawn into exchanges that could escalate.

“There may be certain things you just can’t let go, but there may be other things you decide ‘in the interest of this day or my well-being, I may choose not to get into something.'”

Decide what topics you are willing to talk about, decide how long you’d like to stay, and be ready to say no to something you’re not comfortable with.

Keep a larger perspective of what’s ultimately important and remember that no family is perfect.

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