Navigating Holiday Stress

If you’re feeling joyous AND overwhelmed this holiday season, you’re not alone! The American Psychological Association reports that nearly 90% of adults experience stress during the holiday season due to concerns such as financial issues, missing loved ones, and potential family conflicts.

What are some common causes of family tension during the holidays?  

Family tension during the holidays is hardly a new phenomenon. Rehashing childhood stories, arguments about how much was spent on gifts, differences about disciplining children, old wounds, and unresolved fights, are just a few of the common holiday topics that create tension and conflict among families. In more recent years, political differences have become one of the top hot topics that have made family get-togethers filled with dread and uncertainty, sadly resulting in family members disassociating from one another.   

How can people redirect conversations that may be getting too intense?

Even with the best-laid plans and ground rules, things can still go off the rails between family members. When a conversation is getting intense or uncomfortable, shift the focus from agreement to understanding. People typically escalate because they are arguing about divergent points of view, trying to convince the other person of their way of thinking. However, arguing rarely changes hearts or minds. To redirect a conversation, focus on conveying your understanding of the other person’s point of view by summarizing his/her viewpoint. Remember, understanding has nothing to do with agreement. Once the other person feels understood, you’ll not only deescalate the argument, but you’ll also earn the right to ask to change the subject or tell them you are feeling uncomfortable.

How can families set some “ground rules” to head off problems before they start?

Rather than hope for the best, a proactive approach is a way to increase your chances of heading off problems before they start. The first step is to take the lead to set ground rules in advance of the family get-together, keeping two things in mind. First, take a positive approach versus a negative one. Shift the messaging from “I don’t want there to be any conflict or problems when we are together” to something like, “I’m really looking forward to us all being together, we have so much to celebrate and be grateful.” Second, find areas of agreement for buy-in. Say something like, “I think we all want the same thing, to enjoy our holiday, would you agree it’s best if we make the following subjects off-limits?”   

If a conversation has gotten out of hand, how can people work to repair family relationships?

The adage goes… do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy? Focus on what you can do to repair the relationship, rather than holding on to being right and expecting the other person to come to you. Reaching out to mend hearts is the first step toward healing. Next, focus on the relationship rather than the issue that led to the discord. Chances are, it will be difficult to agree on the issue. However, sharing that the relationship and the person are more important than any issue, increases the chances both parties can focus on what matters most, each other and repairing the relationship.

How important is listening in defusing and repairing relationships?

Take a lesson on the importance of listening from the top negotiators in the world; they know the ability to listen to understand and empathize is the most powerful skill to defuse and get things done. Statistics show that 65% of divorces are due to a lack of communication. People are thirsting to be understood, which is a rare experience, even in our most intimate relationships. Listening is the skill that diffuses, repairs, and ensures we have relationships that thrive. Be intentional about learning to be a better listener, because good intentions are not enough to be successful.  

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Transformational listening in the classroom enables educators to identify and address the various psychological and emotional needs of their students. By actively listening to understand on a deeper level and responding to these needs, teachers can create a sense of safety, belonging, and esteem among their students. This nurturing environment is essential for students to progress towards self-actualization and engage in higher-order cognitive tasks.

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