The stress of holiday visits

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the traditional holiday season and, unfortunately for many, the beginning of the season of stress about heading back to almost mandatory family gatherings

Although many of us look forward to renewing relationships with our parents, siblings and other relatives, the visit home isn’t as inviting for some people.

For most of us, the holiday visit home returns us to lots of warm and fuzzy memories.

But many people also have mixed feelings about that upcoming holiday trip. Based on past experiences, we may realize there’s a good likelihood that it may be a time of stress or conflict.

One way to make holiday visits feel less traumatic is to understand the source of the stress and anxiety, suggests the American Counseling Association:

– Old wounds: Memories of your childhood or teen years may not be very pleasant. There may have been past events that have left real scars. A holiday visit can easily bring back such memories.

– You’ve changed: You’re not the same person, intellectually, emotionally and psychologically, that you were when you left home. Yet it’s not unusual for family members to be expecting you to still be the same old you. The differences between the younger you they’re expecting and the real you who walks through the door can be substantial. Relatives may still be carrying the remembered image of you as a “good” or “bad” kid, even though you’re no longer that kid. You may feel you’re parents still treat you as a child, rather than the responsible adult you’ve become.

– Frustrated expectations: Things don’t always work out as we, or others, expect. There may have been a divorce, financial problems or a job that isn’t going well. It can be difficult to face the fact that you’re not the person your parents and family expected you to be.

Another frustration is when family members can’t really understand the struggles you’ve had or the burdens you’ve been carrying.

There are things you can do to minimize the negatives, suggests the American Counseling Association.

A starting point is simply realizing that dreading a holiday visit home is a normal reaction to stress. If you let the stress win out, it will only ensure that little of the visit is enjoyed, and will probably help make the problem areas even worse.

Instead, plan your trip to reduce the stress as much as possible. One way is to include activities you know you’ll find enjoyable.

If you have a favorite family member, try to arrange spending more time with him or her. Arrange your schedule to minimize the time with people with whom you know you’ll have conflicts.

Plan for time and activities to reduce your stress level during the visit, such as finding time to get off by yourself and doing things you enjoy, such as shopping, visiting old friends, exercise or any other activity that brings you pleasure.

If conflict and stress are almost a guaranteed part of a family visit, you might try to make the trip a bit shorter.

Stay only as long as is needed to avoid being rude or insensitive to other family members.

You can also make visits more pleasant by going into them with realistic expectations.

Don’t expect to change things over which you have no control.

You’ll only frustrate yourself by expecting parents or other family members to change in a certain way.

They will have changed, certainly, but each in his or her own way just as surely as you have changed in yours.

Lastly, if the trip home promises to be significantly traumatic and, for whatever reason, cannot be avoided, it may help to talk with a professional prior to making the trip.

It may not provide you with instant answers, but it may assist you in dealing realistically with the visit.