Coping with Complex Family Drama Over the Holidays

Avoid Family Drama

As the holidays approach, you may worry about upcoming family gatherings, which can be challenging for some people. There are a few strategies you can use which can help minimize some of the difficulty.    

First, steer clear of conversation topics which are potentially controversial or likely to provoke tension.    Politics, religion, money, and old family drama are best left alone at family gatherings. You are unlikely to change any minds. If a family member tries to start a conversation on one of these topics, don’t engage. Provide a neutral non-response such as “OK, I see.”   It takes two people to argue; the other will likely lose interest if you don’t take the bait. If they don’t take the hint and persist in trying to argue, then you can excuse yourself and remove yourself from that situation. Head to the bathroom to grab some water or help in the kitchen.     

If you and another family member tend to repeat the same negative patterns at gatherings, actively avoid falling into this trap. You can go into the gathering with the intention of conflict avoidance. 

Acceptance can also be helpful

Family members who tend always to behave a certain way or say or do certain things are likely to continue to do that. You will not be able to change them or control their behaviour.  Practice tolerance where possible and accept family members for who they are. The only behaviour you can control is your reaction. If someone does or says something which gets under your skin, work on not holding onto resentments, which ultimately cause you more discomfort. Consciously tell yourself you will let it go. Where possible, try to see the humour in complex family interactions and laugh them off to yourself.    

Manage your expectations

People often pressure themselves to have a memorable, magical holiday experience. This can lead to feelings of disappointment and frustration. It’s OK if everything doesn’t go perfectly and you don’t enjoy every moment. Avoid comparing yourself to others and telling yourself everyone is having the perfect holiday.  Limit or stay off social media, which tends to fuel this comparison.   
If a very long gathering is too much for you, limit the time you plan to spend with family.   Where possible, turn down activities or invitations which feel too overwhelming.  

Avoid Overconsumption of Alcohol

Avoid overconsuming alcohol, which can contribute to more heated and unpleasant family interactions. People often tell themselves drinking will help them endure a complex gathering, but it generally makes things worse. 

During the holidays, it’s important to prioritize self-care, physical activity and spending time with positive people who make you feel good.   If family gatherings don’t include folks like that, make some plans before or after your family gathering to see these positive people.    If you don’t have enjoyable traditions with your family, create some with your friends or significant other or just for yourself

Practice Gratitude and Breathe……

Take note of several things to appreciate about the gathering, the holiday or your life in general, however small.  Perhaps you enjoy your morning coffee, a favourite holiday movie or the scent of pine trees.    If you are focused on gratitude, your brain has less space to focus on complex family interactions.  

Use a simple breathing or coping strategy in your back pocket as needed.   For example, try square breathing, where you breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, exhale for four counts and hold that for four counts.   Repeat four times.   Choose a simple mantra to say to yourself, such as “This too shall pass” or “I am calm.”    After the gathering, give yourself credit for all you did to get through the event.    

Happy Thanksgiving: A Reminder to Practice Gratitude

Wouldn’t you agree this has been one of the worst years yet? The isolation created by the COVID pandemic, and everything surrounding it? Depending on who you talk to the answer to this question varies. Some become engulfed in the negativity of their surroundings, spiraling into a toxic cycle of thought. While others who practice gratitude may tell you something different.

We all have unique experiences, among the shared one that is the pandemic. I am sure we are all familiar with our own personal struggles brought on or worsened by it. Many clients I have talked to have highlighted the isolation caused by the pandemic, with the majority focusing on the negative effects of it. However, some have recognized the opportunity for self-improvement and reflection that has been provided by this isolation.

Are you the same person as you were before COVID? What changes have you noticed? Instead of going to the negative (as our minds often do), try to put a name on the positive changes you have noticed in yourself: have you become stronger? More resilient? This type of thinking is characterized as challenging negative thought processes.

How we perceive things is our reality, which is why challenging these negative thought processes and practicing gratitude is critical to our well-being and happiness. When I notice myself spiraling into negative thought processes, I consciously make the decision to stop myself and list a few things that I am grateful for (however big or small). It can be difficult at first to recognize negative and unproductive trains of thought, but the more this is done the easier it becomes.

Here are some simple ways to practice gratitude:

  1. Watch inspiring videos that will remind you of the good in the world.
  2. Call your loved ones more often
  3. Add to your gratitude list daily.
  4. Challenge your inner critic.
  5. See the opportunities for growth and development in your mistakes.

Finally, do not forget to be grateful for yourself! For all your capabilities, your passions, and even your quirks. Reflect on all that you have accomplished in your life, and those who have supported you along the way.

Wishing you all the best in your Wellness journey.

Post COVID-19

What Will The New Normal Look Like?

It seems like a lifetime ago when we could freely roam about our communities without worries of catching a deadly virus. Life is certainly more unpredictable these days with the COVID-19 pandemic running its course. It used to be that we’d wake up and know fairly well how our day was going to go. We had the security of a job, a fairly good assurance of coming home without any type of virus, and a routine that helped us feel stable.

However, since COVID-19, we’re living in a world where fear and panic have risen to the surface, with many people struggling to cope each day.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), fear and panic are defined as intensified or excessive fear launched by something specific. Panic is defined as intense or paralyzing fear that tends to come on suddenly.

Life as normal changed when our everyday lives were hit with COVID-19. No longer could we wake up and use our freedom to engage in work or our communities as we pleased. No longer could we face each day with a certainty that we and our loved ones would be alright. The underlying emotion in most homes has become fear and panic.

Effects On Mental Health Workers

As a psychotherapist working in a hospital, I’ve witnessed the direct effects COVID-19 has had on health care workers. A co-worker shared with me how challenging it’s been for her to watch patients suffer alone. In one instance, she had a patient quarantined with the virus. His family was not allowed in the room to see him, so she moved his bed by the window so he could see them as he talked to them on the phone.
The grief and fear healthcare workers are carrying can become quite heavy at times. They are courageously stepping it up to care for those that fall ill, all-the-while trying to practice self-care.

COVID-19 And Generalized Anxiety

When someone experiences persistent, intense worry, it’s diagnosed as Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It could very well be that most of the world is experiencing these symptoms directly due to the pandemic.
Anxiety, fear, and panic have set the stage for communities to begin living life in a different, self-distancing, isolated way. All of us have had to change our routines and make life adjustments that we hope will keep ourselves and our families safe.

To date, statistics report that almost four million people have COVID-19 around the world. Over 265,000 have died. The tragedy of loss behind the numbers is huge. The grief that cries out around the globe monstrous. All the while, most people continue to struggle with the same questions.

  • When will this be over?
  • Will I be alright? Will my family be alright?
  • What if I get sick?
  • Will I get my job back?
  • How am I going to recover from this?
  • What will life be like after the pandemic?

Moving forward, it will be important that all of us try to cultivate a new sense of normal. A sense of stability post COVID-19.   

Preparing For Life After The Virus

Most people want to get back to work and a sense of normalcy. They’re eager to get back to a routine with some stability. Routines help us feel stable and help bring a calming to our emotions. For children, parents can help them prepare for going back to school or being at home without parents when they return to work by keeping routine and structure in place at home during the pandemic. Children tend to thrive better when there are schedules and consistency. 

For adults, practicing self-care is essential. With the excess free time we’re experiencing, be sure to fill that time with things that nurture yourself. Get plenty of sleep. Take time to exercise. Do things that you enjoy. It’s easy to let boredom in the cracks, so consciously take on each day as it comes, engaging in meaningful tasks for yourself and with your loved ones. 

Hope For Life Post COVID-19

There will be a day when the pandemic is over. Keep that in mind. People will return to work. Children will return to school or daycare. The economy will startup again. Offer gratitude for what will be once again in the near future, as well as for all the good in your life right now. Enjoy the simple things right under your nose. 

In the grand scheme of things, it is an opportune time to evaluate our values and priorities. We have some time to reflect on what’s most important to us, as well as learn valuable lessons along the way regarding health, relationships with loved ones, community, and life in general.