The holiday season can be stressful! Stress may lead to a breakdown in communication, and it can be a really hard time for couples and families. Many find that instead of feeling joy and cheer, the holidays bring them mixed emotions, reminders of unpleasant past memories, or even feelings of loneliness and disconnect. By connecting with others in a positive way, you can help lessen some of those negative effects.
Communication breakdown in a relationship means that one or both sides of a relationship are not able to either express themselves or be understood by the other. Breakdowns in communication are common over the holidays because we may feel overwhelmed, we may be very busy and not take the time to communicate clearly, and the season may bring up a lot of different feelings. When you can reduce communication breakdowns, it can help decrease overall stress during this often-hectic time.
For most of us, the holiday season is filled with to-do lists and juggling logistics. Communication breakdowns happen because it is easy to focus all the conversations with your partner or family members on getting things done, such as “Did you remember to buy butter at the store on your way home?” and “Don’t forget the school concert is tonight.” While those reminders are important, don’t forget to include conversations and statements that build connection and fondness, such as “How is your day going?” and “I appreciate your help getting the lights up.” Building connection helps remind you, and them, that even though everyone is busy and there is a lot going on, you care about them, and that the relationship is important to you.
Stressors automatically multiply during the holidays for most of us. Waiting in long lines, dealing with rude people, an overall lack of sleep, and unmet expectations all contribute to a stressful season. Take some time to think about what has frustrated or upset you during past holidays or busy seasons and identify how you felt or see what you noticed about yourself during those times. Maybe you noticed that your home became messier than usual, you found yourself mindlessly zoning out watching a favorite tv show for the 20th time, or perhaps indulged in retail therapy for yourself way more than you intended (and budgeted) for. If you feel your stress level creeping up and are having a hard time managing emotions or reactions, acknowledge it and take a break! Rest is a need, not an earned privilege.
It’s hard not to vent to your partner or a family member when we are feeling all kinds of things, but it may be helpful to take some time to cool off and decompress before engaging in a vent-fest with family members. Or even worse, taking it out on a partner or family member. Practice self-regulation exercises and mindfulness to help cool down before engaging with your partner or family members. Taking a minute to breathe slowly and deeply can work wonders. You may still have the need to talk it through with a loved one, but it may help make the conversation more effective.
Recognize that we all have different ways of expressing our emotions and frustrations. Some prefer to express how they feel through long conversations and talking through thoughts and feelings. Others need quiet time to reflect on their thoughts before they can even attempt to communicate them to others. Before attempting a conversation, check in with the other person to see if it is a good time. This shows the other person that you are considerate and care about them as much as you care about expressing yourself. Using some basic communication skills can help, including observing body language and focus on listening to understand instead of responding. See below for an idea to try out.
One of the most common stressors during the holiday season is not having enough time to get all the things done. Before accepting an invitation to participate in another event or taking on a task, really think about it. Give yourself permission to decline taking on unnecessary tasks or those that you really don’t enjoy if they are not essential. Talk as a family about what you truly enjoy doing and be choosy. Think quality over quantity when it comes to holiday events and commitments.
Most importantly, keep those Grinchy feelings in check. Financial worries, family conflict, and unrealistic expectations may make us feel cranky and unkind. When we take the time to recognize someone’s efforts and express our appreciation, it can really go a long way to help them feel loved. Remember that the goal is to connect and preserve those relationships that mean so much.
A simple way to remember some effective communication skills is the acronym DEAR MAN. This acronym is useful in helping you communicate your needs clearly and respectfully and can also be useful in setting boundaries and saying "no" to others. DEAR MAN can help you maintain healthy relationships, especially when you are feeling anxious.
If you know that an upcoming stressful season may create communication troubles with your partner or family, consider working with a couples or family therapist to make a plan ahead of time. An experienced marriage and family therapist can work with you to identify those triggers and make a plan to help reduce or even prevent those communication breakdowns and other stressors. Therapy is helpful to give your relationship a tune-up and you don't need to wait until it's on the rocks.
For Arizona residents, contact us today to schedule a free consultation call to learn more.
Jessica is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist based in Gilbert, AZ. She has over 10 years of experience working with people in all walks of life and has a passion for helping couples and families create deep and fulfilling relationships.