The holidays are stressful in many ways. The increase in activities, shopping, travel, and extra costs are only the beginning of the list of stressors. Holidays are also filled with increased family stressors, such as:
- Increased family expectations to spend time together
- Pressure to conform to family traditions
- Seeing family members who may be kept at arms-length during the rest of the year
- Reminders of family members who have died
- Exposure to increased alcohol consumption among some family members
- Children spending time out of school and at home
- Reminders of family hurts and disappointments
- Increased dealings with extended family and in-laws
Even the healthiest of families contain personalities and family members whose personal values clash, or where some family members’ behavior is difficult to be near. These pressures contribute to breakdowns in communication and increased conflict.
We strive to establish comfortable levels of distance and boundaries during the year. This often collapses around the holidays when we change our routines and increase contact with our extended family. Intrusions and offenses increase. Occasionally, these gatherings result in conflict that includes unpleasant escalations and hurtful words.
Though it is probably impossible for most of us to eliminate family stresses and conflicts altogether, there are some ways to reduce stress. Consider some of the following options:
- Parents, prior to making holiday plans, can reconsider and re-negotiate what is best for their family, rather than simply doing the same things that have been expected in the past.
- When visiting conflict-prone family members, make visits shorter
- When traveling out of town, consider motels rather than cramming large numbers of people into small spaces. This also allows for some private times to de-stress.
- Some family confrontations are predictable. It’s okay to intentionally plan to avoid unproductive and vulnerable situations.
- When stressors and conflicts are building during a visit, go for a walk or a drive with safe people to decompress.
- When unresolved conflicts with family members can be identified in advance, be pro-active. Consider your best conflict-resolution skills and plan to use them in advance of holiday get-togethers. When you have made your best effort to seek peace with problem family members and it hasn’t worked, consider consulting an expert on family conflict. They may be able to suggest tools you may not have considered, or they may be able to mediate civil conversations (at CFI we frequently mediate conflicts over the holidays and any time during the year.)
- If you have lost a significant family member recently, make time to celebrate and honor that person. Do it in a way that is most meaningful to you.
- Make the reason for the season central to your family get-togethers. Christmas is about Christ and His great gift of His life to us through his birth on earth. Even when surrounded by others who may not share your faith, renew your own celebration of Christ with those who do share your faith. Pick out verses from scripture that speak to your situation and that assist you to have a fresh perspective and renewed mind, such as:
- Regarding Christmas:
- The Christmas Story from Matthew 1
- The importance of married people setting limits with family:
- Genesis 2:24 (NIV) For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
- Dealing With Anger and Conflict:
- Proverbs 15:1 (NLTSE) A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire.
- Proverbs 18:13 (MSG) Answering before listening is both stupid and rude.
- Romans 12:18 (NIV) If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
- Proverbs 22:24 (NIV) Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered,
- The Goal To Love:
- Ephesians 4:15 (NLTSE) Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.
- I Tim. 1:5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
- I Cor. 13:4-8 (NIV)  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
- We, like Jesus, need time to reflect, refresh, and pray:
- Mark 1:35 (NIV) Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
- Finding Peace in Even the Most Stressful Circumstances:
- Phil. 4:4-8  Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Dale R. Doty, Ph.D.