It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Or is it?

Not everyone agrees given the family stress that often accompanies this time of year. So, every year, I remind us to create a positive mindset concerning the holidays. Why? Because this is one time of year we intentionally get together despite our conflicts and upsets with each other. The goal is to do our best to make this time of year a celebration rather than a burden.

Obviously, stress is heightened. You may be physically more depleted due to all the busyness and find yourself more irritable and less tolerant. You’d rather not deal with difficult people, but difficult people may be in your family. Knowing this, we can plan ahead.

Here are a few tips to make the holidays more enjoyable:

Negotiate boundaries
If there are family things you don’t want to do because they are too stressful, consider not doing them. Family members may initially become upset, but they will get over it. For example, if you are expected to cook the turkey and you can’t see how you will do that this year, ask to have another task this year. If you don’t want to visit for 5 days, tell your family you will come for 3 days instead. In other words, negotiate realistic expectations.

Choose your battles                
Conflict tends to increase in times of stress. However, this is a time to choose your battles. If a problem comes up and you don’t want to go there, acknowledge the hurt or issue and say something like “It was unfortunate that that happened,” …and then redirect the conversation. Keep your response neutral. If the person goes back to the conflict, say, “I would rather talk about something else than rehash old hurts.”  The holidays are just not a good time to confront problems head on. Save those big issues for another time.

Intentionally build positive memories
This is the only family you will ever have, so focus on ways to have fun and build traditions. Go outside for walks or play a friendly flag football game. Create a scavenger hunt for kids and grown-ups. For the fitness minded, a community run or outdoor activity can take down the stress. Board games can be fun with several groups playing cards or a game like Scrabble. If you feel less ambitious, watch old family videos, or browse through photo albums.

Another option is to organize a volunteer activity. Go to a shelter and serve meals, deliver food to shut ins, visit a nursing home, or have international students or people who are alone to your home for the meal. The point is to build positive memories. By intentionally creating activities for the family, people can interact in positive ways so that next year, there is something to look forwarded to–a time of getting together, creating traditions and memories.

Accept your family and offer grace
Families can be challenging this time of year, but they are family. I would encourage you to accept them, flaws and all and do your best to give grace and forgiveness where and when you can. Keep trying to improve those gatherings by responding lovingly to predicable problems. Focus on the good, the blessings and gifts that have been given to you. Focus on the true meaning of this season to center yourself.

Let God’s peace rule
Finally, allow God’s peace rule in your heart. Philippians 4: 7 reminds us, “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Mediate on this Scripture and turn family stress into meaningful memories.

Preparing for holiday family stress