The Mindful Person’s Guide to Surviving the Holidays with Family

December. Holiday season. Does that fill you with excitement and anticipation or some anxiety and dread? For those of us heading back to spend time with the family, perhaps we’ve got a mix of either end of the spectrum of feelings.

Ah, family. You can’t live without them, you can’t live with them. Ram Dass was quoted as saying “if you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family”. How true this rings. How many of us revert back to our 3, 8, or 15-year old selves when around our parents, or play out the myriad dysfunctions we get into only with the people we grew up the closest to? No matter how much work we’ve put into understanding our patterns and how they’ve shaped us, or think we’ve overcome some interpersonal issues, there’s nothing like spending time with the family to test how far you’ve really come in your personal evolution.

I’ve recently returned from spending 5 days with my parents in Lisbon (alone! Just me and them! No siblings or nieces and nephew to distract them!) and I’m happy to report I just about survived it. So I figured some of what worked for me might work for you too, in surviving this holiday season with your family.

The Mindful Person's Guide to Surviving the Holidays with Family

1. Get Out of Your Usual Routine

If you’re able to, plan a holiday away together. Get out of being stuck in your usual family routines, which may inevitably lead to everyone reverting back to default old patterns of dysfunctional behaviour.

Depending on the kind of traveler you versus your family are, this could be a brilliant idea or a disaster. ;)

2. Practice Patience and Compassion

Patience is definitely not one of my virtues, but the way I navigated this was to think of “I’m doing this for them. It’s not about me”.

Some suggestions of how to put this into practice:

  • Slow down. My parents are ageing and slowing down. They’re unable to move at the pace I move, and that might be the case for you too. So assume that everything is going to take twice as long. What’s the hurry anyway, you’re all on holiday. Do things on their time rather than yours. This might force you to slow down too, you busy bee.

    It’s the same approach to take with kids. They’re going to be distracted and dawdle, but do you really need to be snapping at them to get a move on every single day, just like you do on a school day? Give them a break. It’s the HOLIDAYS!

  • Don’t make it about you. It’s the easiest thing to say but the hardest to put into practice. Come from a place of trying to understand why this other person is making the choices they’re making.

  • Put the mirror on yourself. Alternatively, if you start to feel angry, annoyed or irritated at someone else’s behaviour, ask yourself “what are the same qualities in this person that are annoying me now, that I see in myself?”

    Some of these techniques helped me slow down, reflect and buffer some of the quick judgment patterns I’d otherwise fall into easily with my family.

It definitely helps to diffuse any situation when you’re able to make patience and compassion a practice.

Warning: it’s pretty hard work to always keep yourself in check like this, but it’s a practice! Bear in mind too you’re trying to change a life time of conditioning, so of course it’s going to be a bit harder initially. It might not work all the time either, but baby steps. Rome wasn’t built in a day. At least you’re trying.

3. Draw Healthy Boundaries

You don’t have to say “yes” to everything. Don’t allow yourself to be guilt-tripped into doing something you don’t want to do or that will make you feel frustrated or annoyed later.

Of course, if you’re practising patience (see point 2 above) and doing this “for them, not me”, perhaps even if you said “yes” when you really meant “no”, might shift you from frustration and annoyance into generosity. Perhaps. ;)

Otherwise, it’s perfectly fine to keep repeating “no, thank you”, especially if your parent is a feeder (mothers, especially!) Alternatively, if they insist on feeding you everything in sight, you can take it on your plate but don’t eat it. Hide the excess in a napkin or feed it to the dog under the table. It’s for your sanity and waistline (joking, please don’t feed it to the poor dog either).

4. Move Your Body

Some movement and fresh air would be great to physically clear any pent up frustrations you might have building up underneath the surface. Besides, you’ll no doubt be stuffing your face silly - it’s the holidays! So get outside and MOVE.

This could also be a “drawing healthy boundaries” tactic. It’s probably a little healthier for everyone’s sanity if you’re all able to have some time-out away from each other - even if it’s for a few hours a day. Eg:

  • “I’m going to the gym/ yoga for a few hours.”

  • “I’m going to the store to pick up something on my own.”

  • “I’m going to take a walk for the next 2 hours.”

If you’re in the northern hemisphere and it’s cold and dark out, find a room somewhere at home and get moving. There are loads of websites and apps with free fitness and yoga classes, so there’s no excuse.

Need suggestions? Try these:

5. Protect Yourself

OK, this one’s a little bit woowoo, so call me crazy but these work. So who’s laughing now. Especially if you’re an empath, sensitive, or take on other people’s energy easily, here are a few things you can use to protect yourself from taking on other people’s stuff, or getting too affected by “the crazy” happening around you at that holiday dinner table:

  • Black tourmaline crystal. Black tourmaline has a grounding, protective energy, so go to any crystal store and pick up a loose stone to keep in your pocket, or wear it as a pendant around your neck.

  • White ball of light. Visualise a white ball of light surrounding and protecting you any time you start to feel triggered or upset. You don’t want to shrink yourself down and be unseen in any uncomfortable situation, so give yourself your own force field of white protective light. Super hero style.

  • Protect the third chakra. The third chakra relates to your sense of self, your ‘power house’. It sits where your solar plexus is, the soft part just at the bottom of your rib cage, in the middle of your torso. It could help to place a hand over the solar plexus to not only energetically protect the third chakra/ your power house from taking on other people’s ‘stuff’, but physiologically doing so, gently rubbing and soothing it will also help calm your nervous system down. A “plexus” is a conglomeration of nerves, so it’s a sensitive, responsive point.

Yup, I don’t know how this stuff works, but it does - even if you’re a hater and chalk it up to the placebo effect, I’ll run with that. If you’re able to shift your emotional and mental state by using these simple self-protection tools, then isn’t it great how powerful the mind is?

6. Bring Something Self-Soothing

Don’t forget to pack the adult version of your “security blankie”. Y’know… the things that you are familiar with, love, soothe and calm you, eg.:

  • Herbal tea bags - camomile, lavender, verbena. Don’t forget the thermos too!

  • Essential oils + diffuser - lavender, bergamot, vetiver, ylang ylang.

  • Essential oils travel roll-on - to rub directly on your pulse points.

  • Epsom salts - so you can jump in a warm bath whenever you need to relax.

  • Healthy snacks - in case you’re really not feeling like eating all the other excessive foods available.

7. Have Fun!

Finally - don’t forget to have fun! As much as our families might drive us up the wall, if we don’t live near them - how often do we really see them? So don’t forget to try and have a bit of fun with them too. But if it’s all going tits up, just remember to breathe… It’s only a few days more and this too shall pass. ;)

Some snaps from our Lisbon trip below. Wishing you safe travels, bundle up and stay warm, and sending you and your loved ones love and light for a happy holiday season! xx

The Mindful Person's Guide to Surviving the Holidays with Family

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