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Five Strategies for Avoiding Family Burnout this Holiday Season

A mindful approach

More often than not, people tell me how drained they feel after spending holidays with their family.  No matter how much love is present – family can be exhausting!  But why? 

The benefits of being with close family are evident.  As social beings, it is very satisfying to feel connected.  We have long and complex history with our family members.  We have experienced joys, rituals, and adventures together, along with heartache, fallouts, and communication breakdowns.  This history of shared experience allows us an emotional intimacy that is unique and important. 

There is an ease in the predictability of being with family – even if it is chaos that is predictable.  We are able to be vulnerable in the presence of our family, or at least are able to remember a time when we were.  Shared laughter about silly childhood happenings, long standing inside jokes, amusement at the youngest members of the family toddling around or saying things only little kids say…  Even at our most guarded, these small moments elicit a sense of vulnerability that allows us to feel connected, even in the presence of adversity.

So why do we often feel so drained after spending a prolonged period of time with these people whom we love and with whom we have such a rich history?  And how can we protect ourselves from this family burnout?

All relationships are complex, especially within families. What is common to all family situations is that each individual is required to manage many relationships, and at the same time maintain their own sense of self, their own needs, and their sense of balance.  It is not an easy task!

Listed below are some tips that may help.  As with anything that I ever write, suggest, reference, or assign as homework, take from it what is helpful, leave what is not, and stick with what resonates best for you. 

  1. Amp up the mindfulness practice before your trip or visit.  Give yourself the best fighting chance possible to be able to respond and make decisions from a grounded space of clarity, as opposed to reacting out of emotional impulse.  Give your brain a big boost of mindfulness power by increasing your daily guided meditations, mindful walks, or anything else that helps your brain to build and access the skill of being mindful.  Perhaps start today!
  2. If you need space, find space. Despite any contradictory messages you may receive from family members, it is important to give yourself permission to step away from the activities and interactions if that is what you need.  Know what your body’s clues are that tell you that you are approaching a state of overwhelm, agitation, anxiety, sadness – whatever it is that might be conjured up for you.  When your body gives you the clue that you are getting triggered or overwhelmed, step away.  Go for a walk, taking time to notice your surroundings.  Find a quiet space and do a guided mindfulness meditation.  Engage in some one on one time with a small child or a pet.  Respond to your internal cues to take some time out with the respect and self compassion that you need and deserve.
  3. Get your needs met. As social creatures, it is natural for us to be sensitive to the needs of others.  However, you are not actually responsible for the needs of others.  What you are responsible for is identifying, communicating, and advocating for your own needs.  Each adult person is responsible for that in themselves.  It is 100% ok to interact with people in a kind, compassionate, and sensitive way.  However, when you begin sacrificing your needs to accommodate others’, then you are likely setting yourself up for some internal struggles and some (likely familiar) frustration.  
  4. Validate yourself. In other words, stop seeking validation from your family members, or anybody else for that matter.  We are wired to want acceptance and approval from our family, especially from our parents.  But what if we never get it?  What if our family members are unable to provide the validation that we feel we must have?  Challenge yourself to sit with the idea that your family members will likely never be able to completely or adequately validate you.  Beyond that, sit with the idea that YOU have to do the work to validate yourself instead.  If you have already accepted the fact that the validation you need will not come from your family members, but you haven’t done the work to validate yourself, you are setting yourself up to feel that void.
  5. Focus on gratitude. Your brain will benefit from any efforts to focus on gratitude as a way to reframe your experience.  Any heightened feeling you may experience should be treated as a nudge to remember gratitude.  Take a moment, as often as you need to, to recognize all of the positive things present in that exact moment. Take a deep breath, and allow yourself to feel grateful.

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and joyful November!

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