With 9 days left until the jolly man makes his appearance, most of us have been savoring all manner of goodies. Also, many of us, in our own way, have been mindful of the good, the bad and the not so pretty aspects of the Christmas season. You may have noticed an increase in energy and activity level, greater stimulation from the environment around you and perhaps some change in mood or thinking. Such changes can be attributed to many factors, including the extra time spent with family and friends over the holidays.
A quick review of tips of reducing holiday stress reveals certain patterns in terms of recommendations. Primary amongst them include tips on coping with so-called “difficult” family members and relationships (for example, setting aside differences or setting boundaries). Notwithstanding the efficacy of such recommendations, I would like to offer another perspective on how we see these people and interactions.
Across almost all social/psychological theories, there is an understanding that a basic, primary need for us, as human beings, is to feel connected to others. There are a very small percentage of people for whom this need is a bare flicker, but for most of us (either within or under our awareness), the desire to belong is a strong motivating factor. Ergo, one way to view people’s behavior over the holidays is through the lens of their desire to fit in. For example, when you see Great Aunt Suzie zeroing in on your pinch-able cheeks from across the room, it might help to remind yourself that this is her slightly annoying way of trying to let you know she’s fond of you. When Uncle Jim lambasts your holiday dinner with his rendition of Christmas in Killarney, you might ponder if this might just be his way of being seen in a group where he really wants to matter. If it’s hard not to covet thy neighbour’s wife when she’s batting her eyelash extensions your way, you might recognize this as her way of looking for validation (yes, you really are that attractive, but unfortunately she does this to a lot of people). When your assistant manager has a few too many and knocks over the Christmas tree, perhaps he got started before the party in order to stave off his social anxiety and be able to talk to his colleagues outside of work.
Although it’s important to remember that these types of assessments are merely hypotheses, it can be a very helpful (and somewhat entertaining) way of navigating those rather tricky moments. The next time you are primping yourself for a gathering, you might take a moment to ask yourself how it is you would like to connect with others and to marvel at what creative ways your loved ones will come up with to express their own need to belong.