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9 Helpful Tips for Surviving the Holidays With Your In-Laws

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In-law relationships are a popular topic in psychotherapy sessions. There are many reasons for this, but during the holidays, our “special” extended family members can get on our nerves. Whether we like our in-laws or not, feeling confined in the same space with them can lead us to feel on-edge, to say the least. Here are some helpful tips to get you through the holidays with your in-laws:

Take a lot of deep breaths

Seriously: Take a lot of deep breaths. When we’re anxious, our bodies tend to tense up, making us feel even more constricted in a stressful situation. Breathing deeply from our diaphragm allows us to take in more oxygen. Try taking diaphragmatic breaths over the course of the day. As the body relaxes, the mind relaxes.

Well, it’s the holidays

Normalize the fact that the holidays in general are naturally stressful regardless of whether your in-law is in sight. Looking at holiday stress objectively helps us to realize some interactions are stressful because of the conversation itself. At other times, people may annoy us in general because we are already experiencing more stress than usual.

Try to be diplomatic

Notice I said the word “try.” Your partner’s parents may make you want to pull your hair out. However, no matter what you do, it’s not likely that you’re going to change the dynamic of a family by returning the little (or big) jabs you receive. Try your hardest to be patient and understanding of your in-laws as you would a best friend who is going through a hard time and not acting like herself. If you feel disrespected or undervalued, allow your partner to address your concerns with them directly.

If visiting your in-laws, make plans to sleep at a nearby hotel

Just because you are visiting your in-laws does not mean you have to stay under the same roof. Having your own space is monumental in maintaining your mental health during the holidays. Sure, you may have to spend all day in their home, but simply knowing you have an escape at the end of the evening may make the stress of the day more tolerable. If your in-laws are offended by you staying at a hotel, I’d suggest you make a medical excuse to get away. For example, “Janice has a bout of IBS issues right now. Trust us, you want us to have our own space right now.”

Concentrate on the kids

Most grandparents LOVE their grandkids. Allow your children the opportunity to spend as much time as they want with their grandparents. Even if you don’t get along with your in-laws, they might have a healthier/more positive relationship with your children (not fair, I know.) but allowing the focus to be on the children will also remove their focus from you.

Team up

Make decisions as a couple with your spouse. If you are not comfortable with a situation, you are both not comfortable. You don’t have to address your concerns alone, nor should you. Create a special code word or signal with your partner to signal to each other that it may be time to retire early for the evening.

Distraction, distraction, distraction

Try to make plans for an outside activity or outing with the family. Surprise your in-laws with an event to distract from any tension. Focus on the children and having a good time. Brownie points if you present three activity options and allow your in-laws to choose between them.

Choose you

Choosing self-care and making decisions based on your mental health and emotional needs is not selfish. It’s smart. The holidays can stir up feelings of shame or obligation, therefore it’s especially important to make special efforts towards self-care. If you need a break from them, tell the family you are going for a walk or take the kids out shopping or to a local park. There’s nothing wrong with prioritizing you time.

Focus on the prize

They’re going to leave eventually. Focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. Keep reminding yourself the visit is temporary. Create a mental picture of when you and your partner are waving good-bye as you hit the accelerator and get out of there. Take every moment day by day until the day you can leave, or they leave. You’ve got this.

Learn more about how you can manage holiday stress and all life’s ups and downs with Psychiatry & Behavioral Health Services at Ochsner.

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