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In an ideal world, when we get together with our families, everyone would be in a good mood, everyone would get along, and we would all have a wonderful time. Unfortunately, reality is often different. Many times, getting together with extended family means trying to get along with family members with opposing views on many topics, it means dealing with the unpredictable behavior of people struggling with addictions, it means feeling stressed out, and experiencing triggers that are rooted in childhood. If you find yourself a little more stressed than you would like as the Christmas break approaches, here are two tips to help you keep your perspective. 

Tip 1:  Acceptance

-Accept ‘what is’ with regards to your family situation. Acceptance of what is does not mean that you are saying you agree with or condone the way things are, but it does mean that you acknowledge that things are the way they are. Perhaps your parents are divorced and remarried, and you don’t particularly get along with their new partner. Perhaps you are all meeting at someone’s home and you would rather be at your own home. Perhaps your dad, mom, or one of your siblings behaves in a way that embarrasses you. Acceptance means that we take a deep breath and recognize that we cannot change the circumstances. If we do not accept, if we choose to fight against what is, we fight against reality. Fighting against reality costs us valuable time and energy, and it is exhausting. Acceptance however brings us peace. 

Accept people as they are, without trying to change them. Accepting people as they are without trying to change them sets us free from worrying and trying to control others. People only change when they decide to change.  We can save ourselves a lot of trouble by accepting people as they are. Does a certain family member have opposing political views than you? Set aside the inclination to convince them they are wrong and accept them as they are. Does someone tend to dominate the conversation? Accept that this is their tendency. Does someone insist you try their marvellous food? Accept them as someone who expresses their love through food. However that doesn’t mean you have to eat everything they push your way. Just accept that they are going to invite you to eat it. Accepting people the way they are may not get people to change, but it will allow you to be in their presence without stressing and becoming angry. It might even allow you to see them with lighthearted humor. Besides, if we were all the same, the world would be very boring. It is our quirks that make us unique. 

-Accept your emotions, and do what you need to do to care for yourself. Accepting our emotions as they are and taking care of ourselves is a natural next step after accepting other people as they are. Different people in our lives have ways of pushing our buttons and evoking uncomfortable emotions in us. We might feel angry due to something someone says. We might feel offended by something someone does. We might feel sad because we have lost someone dear to us this year. We might feel disappointed because our family is not as perfect as we would like. The first step to finding peace while experiencing the varied emotions that can come up during the holidays, is accepting our emotions as they are. We do this by acknowledging what we are feeling. We can say to ourselves, “I feel angry that this person said that to me.” “I feel upset that this person did that.” “I feel sad because this person is not here with us.” “I feel disappointed that my family cannot get along.” Acknowledging our feelings is the first step to allowing them to run their course. If we name our emotion and allow ourselves to feel it, we can allow the emotion to pass gradually like a wave in the ocean. 

The second question we need to ask ourselves after having identified our feelings is, what do I need to do to take care of myself? Perhaps we need to stand up for ourselves, and in a polite and firm way, let the person know they cannot speak to us in that way. Perhaps we need to say to someone, “When you did (whatever it was) I felt hurt/upset/offended. Please do not do that anymore.” Maybe we need to talk with others about how much we miss someone in our family who passed away, so that we can all grieve together. Perhaps, we need to take a walk outside in the fresh air to regain our peace and composure after a loud and busy morning. Perhaps we need to leave a little earlier than we had planned to give ourselves space. Asking ourselves what we need to do to take care of ourselves, is a helpful question for recognizing our boundaries. From there, we kindly but assertively ask for the respect we desire. The possibilities of what we can do to take care of ourselves are endless, and we have the power to choose to care for ourselves. We cannot control how others respond to our boundaries, but we can remove ourselves from unhealthy situations. 

Tip 2: Control what you can control.

Some things are out of our control, for example, what other people do and the choices others make, but some things are in our control. Here are a few examples of areas we can control, to make our holiday time with family enjoyable.

-Control the time you spend with extended family. In a certain sense, we can control the amount of time we spend with extended family. Even if we have an entire week off from work, perhaps we will choose to spend only three days staying at our relatives home. Sometimes limiting the length of our visits can create an enjoyable experience for everyone. A visit that is too long can become tiresome for the visitor and the host. Perhaps if you have several family members who live in the same city, you can spend shorter visits with each one instead of a long visit with only one. Get creative. The idea here is that you can control the time you spend with your family, you just have to choose to do it. If in the past, you have always stayed a certain length of time, or with a certain family member, be ready to receive push back. Whenever we change something, we run the risk that people will react trying to get us to go back to the way things were before. Have courage. Stay the course. If this is something you need to do for yourself, it will benefit everyone in the long run. 

-Your reactions and what you pay attention to. We can also control how we choose to react to what happens around us. We don’t control our emotions, they just are, but we can control what we do when we feel our emotions. We can choose to keep our calm. We can choose to be assertive and set a boundary. We can choose to step away when we feel like we are going to react strongly or say something we will regret. We can choose to vent with a neutral person, or reach out to our therapist. We cannot control what other people do or say, but we can control how we react. 

Along with choosing our reactions, we can choose what we pay attention to. We can decide to pay attention to all the good that is happening around us. We can choose to pay attention to all the people we are happy to see, instead of the one or two people that are making our visit difficult. We can choose to focus on what brings us joy and peace, instead of dwelling on offenses or hurt. Choosing what we pay attention to is easily said but more difficult to do. However, with practice, we can control what we allow our mind to focus on. We can choose to dwell on the negative, or we can opt for focusing on the positive. 

Acceptance and Control What We Can Control

It is our hope that these two tips will help you navigate the upcoming holiday season with a greater sense of peace. Accept what is, accept people as they are, accept ourselves as we are especially our emotions. Control what is in our power to control. Control the time we spend with family, control our reactions, and what we pay attention to. If you find that these concepts of acceptance and control are hard to put into practice, feel free to reach out to us for counseling support. Wishing you and your families a blessed Advent and joyous Christmas Season!