Does the festive period find you rolling your eyes at your dad when he makes his annual holiday toast? Or instigating a fight with your sister over who sits where at the dinner table? If so, you’re not alone. Reverting to teenage you is called “holiday regression”, and (according to Freud) it’s a defence mechanism that is triggered when old family wounds - many of which are not entirely healed - are reopened.
So, how do we banish the Ghost of Christmases past?
Acknowledge your feelings
Accept that it’s a process. You don’t have a magic wand, so there are likely to be some slip ups. However, the key is to face into your feelings. Snarky comments, eye rolls and arguing are all ways that we "act" out feelings unconsciously. By acknowledging them (even just by noticing these behaviours, initially) you can slowly start to build a toolbox of alternatives.
Manage your expectations
The childlike magic of the festive season means we can have unrealistic fantasies of what we WANT to happen. Often what's actually happening around us doesn't match. This can be frustrating, and feed into our regression. Anchoring ourselves to our inner adult, rather than our inner child, and being realistic about what to expect from ourselves and our family, can help us to not be overly disappointed.
Compassion and cordiality
However, being realistic isn't the same as expecting the worst. Try to remain open-minded by going into the festivities with a compassionate mindset. You don’t have to be over friendly to difficult or distant family members, but making an effort to be polite can go a long way to making the festive season more bearable - perhaps even enjoyable - for everyone. Including yourself.
Create a self-care plan
The festive period often allows for very little me-time; creating a self-care plan might help. It could include: going for a walk (alone!), doing a deep breathing exercise, meditating, or simply reframing your outlook by looking at the holiday as an opportunity to practice being Zen. When you accept things as they are, you are more able to respond - rather than react - to what is happening around you.
Know when to leave
And the ultimate self-care plan is knowing how you're going to escape if/ when you need to. If you are going to someone else’s home, you don’t have to stay all day. Come up with a timeframe that works best for you and allows you to honour your energy. Similarly, if you are hosting, don’t be afraid to let folks know you’re tired, or ready to have some time to yourself.
Maintain your boundaries
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. We can feel obliged to do things we would normally say no to because it's the holidays. However, just because family members expect or ask certain things of you doesn’t mean you need to agree to every holiday request. Be realistic about what works for you.
Control what you can
Namely: how YOU respond to more difficult situations. Give yourself a moment to pause before you answer (especially if you're aware that your buttons are being pushed) and remember that sometimes holding your tongue is the best course of action. If people don’t agree with you on certain topics, you are not going to change their mind over the dinner table.
Inspired by: 9 Tips for Surviving Holiday Gatherings by Nedra Tawab and Holiday regression: How to prevent yourself from acting like a kid again by Juli Fraga.