Home for the Holidays: 5 Tips for Not (Completely) Losing It

11/23/2012 11:08 am ET | Updated Jan 21, 2013

You do yoga, drink green tea, and read every self-improvement book that comes out. You know that it is important to use "I" statements when giving feedback about how you are feeling. You have it together, you are evolved, and you've got the whole emotional intelligence thing under control.

And then the fourth Thursday of November approaches. Yup, it's time to go home for the holidays.

What is it about being around our family that makes it difficult to maintain self-awareness and coping skills? If we had the time, I could spend this entire post discussing the reason why we regress at this time of year. But we don't have the time -- the holidays are rapidly approaching. I'm leaving tomorrow to spend several days with my husband's family. There's no time for understanding. We (I) need a plan. Here goes:

1. Keep up your routine. During the holidays, many of us take a break from the healthy behaviors that help manage stress. We often end up eating too much, exercising infrequently, and sleeping too little. Eat the number of meals you would usually eat rather than spending the day grazing on leftovers. Go out for a run, find a gym that offers a daily pass, go for a walk with your favorite cousin, and get to sleep at a reasonable hour. Routines anchor us, and during the holidays we need all the grounding we can get.

2. Schedule breaks. Here's the thing about family -- they can be highly predictable. You know that your mom is going to tell you about all her friends' daughters who are engaged, married, or having babies while you are struggling to revise your online dating profile. You might be able to predict that you will feel a bit irritated. (Read: Someone is going to get their hair pulled and mass quantities of alcohol will likely get consumed.) It might be a good idea to plan some alone time. Inevitably, runs to the grocery store will be needed, so volunteer to be the runner. "Oh, we only have 100 napkins left? Let me go get some more. We wouldn't want to run out."

3. Keep your phone close. Listen, most of the time we connect with our friends via text, Facebook, and phone anyway. Just because you are going to be five states away doesn't mean that you don't have access to your "Sanity Village." Schedule some check-in times as well as discuss emergency contingency plans during those "I need to talk to you before I strangle my brother's girlfriend" moments. This might avoid the difficult decision of who should be your one phone call from jail, right?

4. Remember that it's okay to be upset. Getting angry at yourself for being upset makes things worse. You are human. Things might get triggered. It's okay. Recognize that we're all growing -- being in situations where you're vulnerable help you identify weaknesses and areas for growth. Which brings me to my last tip.

5. Stay curious and be a detective. Observe your own thoughts and reactions with curiosity rather than judgment. "Isn't it interesting that I want to yell and punch something each time my dad talks about how proud he is of my brother getting a 2.0 average this semester, while I'm on track to graduate, with honors, from Harvard Law in the spring and all you do is ask about my dating life." Or: "How fascinating that every time my aunt looks right at me when she refuses to eat carbs and mentions that this is how she's lost 60 pounds in the last three months, I happen to find myself eating a third slice of pie... by myself... in the pantry... after everyone else has gone to sleep. Might there be a connection?"

"Interesting," "curious," and "fascinating" are far more productive when evaluating yourself than "stupid," "ridiculous," and "immature."

Next month I'll post about setting boundaries, reevaluating what events really are "obligations" and creating your own holiday traditions with friends. But for now, we already have our non-refundable ticket in hand. None of our friends are going to be around anyway. Take a deep breath. Make a plan. Stick to it. Keep expectations realistic. Exhale. We can do this. Yes, yes we can.

Happy (or as un-stressful as possible) Holidays!

For more by Dr. Paula Bloom, click here.

For more on holiday stress, click here.