The holidays should be joyful, but too many people don’t have that experience. Instead, holiday gatherings can bring stress, conflict and sky-high tension.
If the people at your holiday celebrations aren’t filling you with joy, then it’s time to rethink their company. Choosing to share your festivities with people you love — even if they’re not related by blood — is better for your health and your peace of mind.
Why It May Be Time for New Holiday Traditions
Stressful, contentious holidays aren’t good for anyone. They harm your health and ruin what should be a festive time. When that happens to you, it’s time for a change.
Family Stress and Your Health
The more you deal with unpleasant people — especially when they’re supposed to be the people who love and support you — the more your stress will go up. The holidays are a short season, but the stress they cause may last all year.
It’s a documented fact that chronic stress is bad for your health. It contributes to heart problems and puts you at a higher risk of a heart attack or stroke.
It lowers your immune system, too. Stressed people are more likely to catch illnesses. Wounds also heal more slowly, and vaccines are less effective. Even kids can be affected.
Family Conflict and Your Choices
Perhaps you don’t like who you become around your family. Spending time with relatives turns you into a person you don’t want to be.
Quarrelsome family members may also drag you into conversations you’d rather avoid. In frustration, you either lash out or clam up. No matter which response you choose, there’s a good chance you’ll go home with regret.
Even worse, spending time with difficult people may be so stressful that you turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, like increased alcohol consumption.
Family Travel and Your Budget
Your family doesn’t have to be rife with conflict for holiday gatherings to be a burden, either. Perhaps going home is simply more than you can afford. Plane tickets are expensive. Gas isn’t cheap these days, either.
Even if you can afford the travel cost, you may not have enough time off work to make the trip worthwhile. For many people, the holiday is surrounded by on-duty days. Or, working on the big day itself may offer bonus pay that you can’t afford to turn down.
Looking out for your finances doesn’t mean you’re being greedy. It’s actually a way to safeguard your health. Money worries can cause physical symptoms like headaches and upset stomachs. Plus, you may avoid needed medical care if you feel your budget is too tight.
Family Expectations and Your Holiday
Remember, the holidays don’t have to be all about what everyone else wants. You can prioritize your own wants and form your own traditions.
Yes, your family may be disappointed if you don’t come home. Some people might feel slighted. Others may try to guilt-trip you.
But perhaps loading everyone into the car and navigating holiday traffic is simply more than you care to deal with. You’d prefer the stress-free idea of staying at home all day. If that’s what you want, then that’s all the excuse you need.
This isn’t about being a Grinch. It’s about protecting your mental, physical and emotional health during a time when all three might be under attack. Think of it as a choose-your-own adventure approach. You can set boundaries and create the holidays you want, including people and traditions as you see fit.
How to Celebrate the Holidays Instead
If you’re ready to break free from holiday stress, it’s time to make a plan. Consider involving different people or new traditions in your celebrations. Doing so could mean you actually start looking forward to the holiday season instead of dreading it.
Looking for ways to create holidays you actually enjoy? Here are six ideas to get you started.
#1) Stay home.
If your house is where you want to be on the holidays, then stay put. Maybe that means curling up by yourself on the couch to watch cheesy holiday movies and sip eggnog in peace. Or, for you, a holiday at home might involve wearing pajamas and playing board games with your kids.
If you’re open to seeing family but not to traveling, invite people to come to you. Whether they do so is up to them, but at least you’ll have extended the invitation.
#2) Be selective.
Perhaps cutting ties with your toxic aunt doesn’t have to mean getting rid of the whole family. Consider a smaller gathering, inviting only the people who genuinely care about you (and vice versa).
By limiting your invitations to the siblings or cousins you actually enjoy, you can maintain family bonds without sacrificing your peace.
Note: Being choosy about your family might ruffle feathers, and that’s putting it mildly. Be prepared to stand your ground. If this is a problem for you, enlist the help and support of your spouse, partner or friends to help you say “no” when you need to.
Also, keep in mind that not seeing people for the holidays doesn’t mean you have to be unkind about it. You can be firm and set boundaries without provoking an unnecessary fight.
#3) Invite your friends.
You can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends. In fact, for many people, friends become “chosen family” — the most important relationships they have.
Holidays are for sharing with the people you love most in the world. If that’s your friends, then spend these days with them.
These people are part of your life for a reason. You have things in common. They accept you for who you are, and you enjoy each other’s company. Your friends’ presence may be exactly what you need for a joyful holiday. And as you share big days together, your bonds may grow even deeper.
Strong friendships are good for your body and your mind. Spending time with friends can lower your stress, increase your feelings of self-worth and give you a sense of belonging. Those are things you need every day, but especially on holidays.
#4) Change the menu.
As you rewrite your guest list, you may want to switch up the menu, too. If Uncle Joe is no longer at your dinner table, then you’re under no obligation to make his favorite mincemeat pie, particularly if no one else likes it. In fact, you don’t have to make traditional holiday foods at all if you don’t want to.
Friendsgiving has become a popular term for celebrating Thanksgiving with friends instead of family. Some Friendsgiving groups forgo traditional menus and choose meals that require less prep.
For example, some groups have everyone bring a dip or an appetizer. No one has to spend all day in the kitchen, but everyone still goes home with full bellies.
#5) Choose a different day.
Official holidays can feel fraught with pressure. If you take the focus off of the main day, the season may feel lighter. Instead of committing your holiday to family members, plan a short visit with them the weekend before or after the big day.
Even for the get-togethers you’re truly excited about, you may want to choose an alternate date. By holding your Friendsgiving on Wednesday, you can spend the official holiday doing nothing but lounging around and eating leftovers.
#6) Form new traditions.
Traditions aren’t just rituals we follow for no reason – or they shouldn’t be, anyway. Research actually shows that traditions are the secret to happy holidays. The more traditions people have, the more they enjoy the season.
As you make a plan for how to celebrate from here on out, think about what traditions you could establish, like:
- Watching the same movie annually
- Serving a meal to the needy
- Crafting holiday ornaments together
- Playing a brand-new board game
- Looking at photos from past holidays
- Picking a new recipe to try each year
- Leaving small gifts on your neighbors’ doorsteps
- Holding a candy or cookie exchange
- Signing a tablecloth or a memory book each year
Whether you’re celebrating with family or friends, traditions will draw you closer and give you something to look forward to year after year. Bottom line? You don’t have to dread the holidays. Create the kind of magic you want for yourself, and spend time with people who get you.