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How to Handle Holiday Conflict From a Psychologist Who Hears It All


Christmas is supposed to be one of the most joyous times of the year. But sometimes, holiday conflict can make the season not so jolly — and no one knows that better than a psychologist who hears all about it.

Nicholas Joyce, writing for The Conversation, said that his daily work as a psychologist always brings to light deep-seated issues during the holiday season. While it may be easy for people to avoid regular contact with relatives they clash with, the holidays are a time when they may be forced to confront them.

“For the ill-equipped person, this sets the stage for disaster and even poor health,” he writes. “Long-term stress has been linked to digestive problems, heart disease, sadness, and depression. Some studies have shown that people undergoing stress have more viral infections.”

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, stress may worsen asthma for people who have it and has been linked to anxiety and other mental illnesses. Though meditation and yoga have helped many people with severe stress, there are some situations where you can’t simply switch off and get your om on — and Christmas is one of those times.

Fortunately, Joyce has some great tips on how to deal with conflict during the holidays — in a healthy way. He writes:

I teach my clients a life skill called the “letting go process.” It involves three steps:

Notice and allow an experience to be there.

Decide if the experience is useful or not.

If useful, do something about it. If not, let it go.

We know what you’re probably thinking right now: Easier said than done. But as Joyce explains it, it’s very useful for many situations that could arise during the holidays. He gave a very relatable example of a relative criticizing a woman on her weight gain.

Joyce writes that the “letting go process” in this case looks like the woman recognizing her hurt and frustration after hearing those comments, considering the usefulness of said emotions, and choosing to either make a change or let them go.

He writes, “Jane could take an assertive stance and respond with an ‘I statement’ such as, ‘I feel really upset when you comment on my weight and I would appreciate it if you refrained from doing so for the rest of the time I am home.'”

Alternatively, Jane could respond that she had gained weight or not respond at all, simply changing the subject.

Now that we think about it, we can come up with a few other examples where this might be useful. Maybe when your mother-in-law criticizes your home decor, or perhaps when your child says something snarky about your carefully selected Christmas outfit.

“With this information available to you ahead of time, consider which route you want to go,” Joyce writes. “Do you need to go a change route and address an issue, or do you need to let it go as something out of your control? You will now be more fully able to accomplish whichever route you choose.”

Which route will you choose this holiday season?

h/t Science Alert

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