The Holidays: Family Dynamics

Thank you for joining me for this week’s blog! In our last blog, we looked at how expectations of others can lead to feelings of stress, and we also gave you a few quick tips on how to address those expectations. Something that comes hand-in-hand with expectations of others is family dynamics. That’s our focus for this week.

Family dynamics 

As we talked about last week, a significant portion of the holidays is about spending time with family. Sometimes spending time with family can be stressful, and for some, it can be stressful because there is no family. What makes family dynamics challenging? There are many possible causes, including divorce, loss, grief, broken relationships, the pressure to choose certain people to spend time with, and financial concerns. All of these reasons, and others, can create that dreaded interaction, and cause stress. These situations can cause stress for different reasons. Still, they all ultimately link back to what we discussed in the last blog: the innate human need to belong. 

Spending time with family 

Understanding how spending time with family might be stressful, it’s essential to look first at how you form relationships. You may or may not be aware of how hard you work to have good relationships in your life. This learning came from your family of origin; which is the family that you grew up with throughout your childhood. This experience helped to shape how you interact with other people and learn to belong, or maybe, not belong. As you are growing with your family of origin, many other factors can influence your relationship skills and how strongly you feel the desire to belong. 

Also, as we are growing, we are changing and learning new things, including how we interact with others, what is important to us, and who we want in our lives. Similarly, our family members are also changing, which impacts how interactions happen when we spend time together.  

Since the holidays are typically bringing families together, these interactions suddenly become stressful because what was once very automatic and natural, has now changed. We are now faced with re-learning how to interact with each other and meeting each other’s need to belong. 

Loss or lack of family

If you are in a situation of not having family to spend the holidays with, sometimes the stress you experience can come from reflecting on how things could have been different. If it is due to a broken relationship, the focus is often on the changes that each person has made since that time of being in the family of origin. When there is a loss in the family, we will reflect on the role that person played in the holidays and how they made us feel like we belong.  

Being prepared for family interactions 

Here are some tips to help you get prepared for possible family interactions:

  • Focus on what you have control over like your behaviours and actions.  Even though most interactions include you and one or more other people, remember that you only have control over your behaviours and actions. This is a tough concept to internalize, as we naturally tend to focus on what others are doing to contribute to stressful situations. If we focus on what we are in control of, suddenly it becomes easier to shift the extra stress. 
  • Focus on decompressing before you attend these interactions.  This can literally mean taking a few minutes to yourself to get in a good headspace. (Check out our free guide on managing stress to help you learn more about this technique – just your enter your email below!)  
  • Reflect on what your goals are for the time you are spending with each person. How do you want to feel in the interaction? What would your hope be for how they would feel after their interaction with you? How important is it to you to belong in the interactions with this person?  
  • Make a shortlist of your priorities for the time spent together. Writing things down is a game-changer. This helps to reason through a situation and be purposeful about your intention. 
  • Stay in the moment.  When you are in the situation, focus on being there in that room. This helps to let go of past or future pressure that interferes with what we are experiencing in the moment.  
  • If it’s someone you are missing, find a creative way to incorporate their presence. Reflect on their impact on giving you that sense of belonging and share it with others.   

The truth of the matter is that families are complicated and delightful all at the same time. We are all responsible for how we act in these stressful situations. This is good news because it means we have the opportunity to help someone feel like they belong. If we focus on taking purposeful steps to bring our stress levels down, this helps clear our mind and be our best self in the moment, for ourselves and others. 

In our next blog, we will take a look at a few key contributors to holiday stress: financial limitations, weather changes and the never-ending “to-do” list. 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, make sure you sign up below to receive our free guide on managing stress – which would be helpful as you’re reviewing the tips we provided above. 

If you have tried the techniques listed in the guide and still find it challenging to manage the stress, let us support you! It can be difficult to set boundaries and understand how to be realistic when we are already stressed. We encourage you to reach out, and we will provide you with some outside perspective.  

If you are interested in counselling or would like to speak to a member of our team, please contact us, we would be happy to speak with you.