Ah, the holidays. The “most wonderful time of the year” is filled with joy, anxiety—and a lot of stress for some of us.
According to the American Psychological Association, 41% of US adults said their stress increases during the holiday season compared with other points in the year. From financial concerns to grief, there are a lot of stressors during this time, and in our increasingly divisive society, anticipating conflicts at family or team gatherings is a major trigger.
If you’d like to keep the festive spirit alive this holiday season, here are five methods you can use to navigate the turbulent seas of family and team dynamics.
Method 1: Brace yourself beforehand
Let’s face it: You probably know exactly who you might have difficult conversations with at your get-together before you even walk in the door.
For me, it was my grandfather. I adored him, but I always knew he’d inevitably say things I didn’t agree with.
With this information in mind, ask yourself three questions before you arrive at your gathering:
- How does this family or team member fit into my life?
- How can I create, maintain, and build upon the relationship I have with this person?
- What am I willing to talk about, and what am I not?
If an individual broaches a topic that falls outside the boundaries you’ve set, be prepared with a response along the lines of, “I know you think that, but I don’t want to hear about it. I want this to be a festive time where we can come together and connect on the things that connect us.”
Alternatively, you can remove yourself from the situation. Dishes that suddenly need to be done can be a life-saver!
Method 2: Hit the “pause” button
In the heat of the moment, when someone starts to rant about a politically charged issue, jumping in with a counter-argument might be tempting. But it’s important to hit the mental ‘pause’ button before you go all in.
This is a tactic I often used with my grandpa. When I paused, I’d ask myself, “Do I continue to be frustrated at this man who I love but who has a different perspective than me? Or do I just not agree with him and accept him for who he is?” The vast majority of the time, I chose the latter.
Hitting pause allows you to collect your thoughts and respond (or not respond) in a way that keeps the peace. It grounds you and gives you a moment to remember why this person is important in your life.
Method 3: Find humor in the chaos
Sometimes, you just have to laugh at the absurdity of it all. A bit of humor can lighten the mood!
I use humor all the time. I find it helps defuse situations, alleviates tension, and reminds everyone of the bond you share.
Back to Zayda (grandpa in Yiddish), I’d often say to him, “Grandpa, please! I don’t want to hear about that.” This kept things lighthearted, and our conversations would chug along from there.
That said, you do have to know the people you’re with and what will work in the situation. After all, humor is an acquired taste.
Method 4: Lean on your support people
Knowing which people align with how you think and using them as support is so important during tumultuous family or team gatherings.
For me, that person is my cousin. We’ll often shoot “knowing looks” to each other that communicate “Can you even believe this?” at family get-togethers. Sometimes, when we feel ourselves reaching our limit, we’ll step outside together.
Whether it’s your partner, sibling, and/or cousin, identify who you can turn to when things get tough. Knowing who makes you feel emotionally and psychologically safe is like having a security blanket.
Method 5: Agree to Disagree
Last but not least, it’s okay to acknowledge that not everyone at your family or team gathering will see eye to eye on everything. It’s also okay to agree to disagree.
None of our families are the perfect “Instagram family” in real life. We grow up in families where certain values and ideas are instilled in us, and then, as we go out into the world, those things change. When we reunite with our families, some members may still hold the same values they’ve always had.
Chances are, that’s not going to change.
Even though there will be differences in opinions and thoughts, remind yourself of the glue that bonds and holds us together in the first place! The goal is to love and appreciate people for who they are in your life, not the opinions they hold.
With these methods in your back pocket, go enjoy your holiday gatherings as best you can! And remember— there’s no way you’ll be able to handle every situation perfectly, so give yourself some grace. A little kindness with ourselves— and others— can go a long way.
Happy (chaotic) holidays! You’ve got this.
Contributed to EO by Dr. Roz Cohen, Ph.D., the founder of Socius Strategies, an HR advisory and strategy practice based in San Francisco. Dr. Roz helps organizations build inclusive, radically connected cultures of belonging that benefit individuals and drive business growth.