The holidays bring out both the best and worst in us all: a season of gratitude and giving can quickly become stressful when dealing with tense family relationships. As we meet again with hard-to-love relatives, Dr. Linda Mintle says it’s vital to come prepared.

“Your family hasn’t changed that much in a year unless they’ve all been in therapy, or they’ve had some a-ha moment with the Lord. So you know ahead of time where those trigger points are going to be. That is the most important thing you can do: have a plan.”

“Think about the typical pattern, and then how you’re going to respond differently so that it doesn’t go in that negative direction again. Then, you’ll go in feeling like you’ve got some different ways to respond. That alone will take down the anxiety and the stress for most people.”

Breaking dysfunctional patterns is key to building better relationships, but it’s no easy task when feelings get involved. To avoid going back into the default of old arguments, Dr. Linda advises to pray about your response in advance of the holiday.

“You really need to pray: ‘God, give me that calm. I have this new way of responding, help me to do it.’ Then you have to stick to your guns: what happens when you start to take a different response to something is the other person will continue to ‘up the ante’ and will goad you, hoping that it will go back to the same old pattern. You really have to stay on point and not go there when they’re trying to raise the tension.”

Another key to reducing stress during a difficult holiday is to keep expectations realistic. As imperfect people in an imperfect world, things are bound to fall short of the Norman Rockwell holiday portrait. Instead, place your confidence in the One who never fails.

“I go back to the center of my life, which is my faith and I say)’God, you have all of this under control. You know exactly what I need; you will provide the rest that I need whenever I need it. I’m just going to trust you in this process.’  We always have to re-center ourselves and put our mind back on God,  because He says I’ll keep you in perfect peace if your mind is stayed on me.” 

“I just go and spend a few moments meditating on the Lord and His goodness, and the truth of His Word. He tells me to cast my cares on Him, to put my mind on Him and He’ll give me whatever I need for this day–to give back to whomever I have to give back to, and do what I need to do. He is my my comfort and my source of peace, and I need to remember that.”

Dr. Linda Mintle is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a licensed clinical social worker and national expert on relationships and the psychology of food, weight and body image. With 30 years of clinical experience working with couples, families and individuals, she brings her common sense approach to people who want to live in positive mental health.

Help for relationships during the holidays