What Is Holiday Regression?
It’s the great holiday migration, with many families coming together. Back, for a time, under the same roof. These trips home for the holidays can be a minefield for memories that spark our attitudes and behaviours. Our families are filled with sibling rivalry or seemingly demanding parents. Often our responses to these situations and people are the same as when we were children or teenagers.
Psychologists tell us we rarely escape our childhoods, and old patterns tend to re-emerge when we gather for the holidays. This pattern of behaviour, that we and our family members exhibit, became established early on and they hold the family together, even though they may not always be positive. Family Systems Theory says that we will revert back to our childhood responses during emotional or tense situations.
Impact Of Holiday Regression
Other people’s temperaments, especially our family member’s, are highly contagious and they can be “toxic.” We may be functioning just fine, when we suddenly have to change gears and deal with a sibling or parent’s difficult behaviour or negative attitude. This brings us down, makes us feel grouchy and out-of-control. It becomes a feedback loop as we are influenced by our family’s moods and attitudes, they are influenced by ours. We notice and interpret the nonverbal cues, including body movements, posture, and facial expressions such as an eye roll or frown. And because they frowned, we frown, and we now feel sad or angry. We respond and then the other person responds back to our cues and emotions.
Research has found that those who are most vulnerable to “catching” others’ emotions are individuals who tend to be:
- attentive and sensitive to the emotions of others,
- value inter-relatedness over independence and uniqueness
- and those are heavily influenced by peripheral feedback
They also found that introverts are more likely to be affected by others’ positive emotions whereas extroverts tend to be more affected by others’ negative emotional expressions.
So how do we manage our emotions and behaviours so that we can minimize this holiday regression?
Follow These 10 Tips To Minimize Holiday Regression:
- Check Your Attitude. The mood you bring to the situation affects behaviour more than moods caused by changes during the day. So go in with a positive attitude. Being calm and relaxed is more contagious and can help to counterbalance stressed out and anxious. Make sure your posture, gestures, and facial expressions send the right signals.
- Be Prepared. Those things that pushed your buttons before, will push your buttons or get on your nerves now, if you let them. Go into the situation knowing that you will likely experience those triggers, and think of appropriate responses or strategies ahead of time.
- Avoid Holiday Perfectionism. This is not a Hallmark movie where everyone eventually learns how to get along.
- Minimize The Amount Of Time. Avoiding everyone may be impossible, but minimizing the time, can help to protect you if you find that you don’t like the impact that visiting during the holidays has on you. Shorten the day, change the location of the holiday gathering, or go for a visit on an alternate day, when the stress level may be much lower and manageable.
- Be Proactive. Manage your energy so that you are not as reactive and emotional. Use a few tried and true, stress-management techniques that may help you avoid negative moods altogether like deep breathing, visualization or progressive muscle relaxation. Mood lifters may also include listening to music, going for a walk or enjoying some quiet time. Some researchers suggest that even standing tall as an adult in your space can help you to respond less like that child from the past and more like the adult that you are today.
- Take Care. You are much more reactive and emotional when you are hungry or tired out. Go into these situations well rested so that you can think clearly, and problem solve more effectively. Give yourself permission to take a time out to regroup. A quick walk outside can provide you with a needed break as well as some fresh air that can give you a boost in energy. Minimize alcohol, caffeine, and sugar that makes us more reactive and emotional.
- Use Distraction. Change topics if you find that you are getting angry or frustrated. Suggest a game or activity that requires concentration or connection.
- Focus On The Other Person. What are their behaviours and responses saying about their needs? Are they looking for control, attention, or recognition? Are they trying to avoid additional conflict? What might their perspective be on this situation? Figure out how you can help to meet their needs in an appropriate way. Listen fully to what they are saying. Avoid giving advice unless it is requested. And avoid ‘always’ thinking. ‘You always do that’ or “Why am I always the one to…” Most likely, outside of this situation, they would respond in a different way.
- Let It Go. Don’t personalize your family member’s responses. They may just be responding from their personal experience and are really not intending to upset you. Address what absolutely needs to be addressed, especially if it is a mental health issue, otherwise move past it.
- Hold An Attitude Of Gratitude. Just because our family can push our buttons and we regress back into childhood, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t spend time with them. Focus on those things that you can be thankful and grateful for. It will help you to minimize the triggers. Gratitude is the number one personality trait that promotes happiness. Being grateful can bring more joy into your holidays.
Emotions and attitudes are contagious. And getting together with family can be difficult to manoeuvre through. By going in with your eyes open to these situations, preparing yourself in advance, and ensuring that you have the energy and strategies to buffer yourself, you will be in a much better position to enjoy, rather than regret, this holiday gathering. Finally, don’t judge yourself or your family too harshly if you do fall back into holiday regression patterns. Know that you get another opportunity to try and reinforce positive patterns next year at this time.
If you have some strategies to share – comment on this posting!