‘Tis the season: Connect with family

While the holidays often are times of joy and celebration, it can be especially hard for those serving away from home. And if you’re unable to be with your loved ones during the holidays, this time of year sometimes can leave you with mixed emotions. Still, take time and enjoy the special family members who bring goodness to your life.

HPRC offers these tips to help you take care of your loved ones and yourself this holiday season—whether you’re at home or abroad.

Express appreciation

Use this holiday season as reason to celebrate your family and friends. Appreciation is a powerful and often overlooked tool in fostering strong relationships. Let your family and friends know that you appreciate them, even if you can’t physically be together. Say, “I appreciate you,” and let them know what you specifically appreciate. Gestures count too: Send a thoughtful gift. Or help loved ones with an important project or task, if they live close by.

Shift your thinking to recall the positive

Holiday stress can feel inevitable. Focus on what you can change: your response to that stress. Noticing your thoughts and emotional reactions can empower you to experience different, less-charged responses, resulting in more positive thoughts and actions.

You might have to fight your “negativity bias” this season. Perhaps you think the holidays won’t be enjoyable and you’ll be lonely. Fight this bias by checking your interpretations and questioning your thinking. Who can you spend time with? How can you maintain a connection with those who aren’t close by? Ask yourself these questions because it might help you think differently and relieve your stress.

Seek gratitude

Thankfulness is a state of mind that can be hard to foster when you’re busy, particularly during the holidays. Set time aside for gratitude over the next few weeks. Try keeping a gratitude journal: Write down a few things you are grateful for each day. If you have children, you also can do this together, sharing what you’re each grateful for during dinnertimes. Or share your message of gratitude—through mail or email—with family and friends who physically can’t be with you this year.

Remember (or reconnect with) those who can’t be with you

Be creative: Look at family photographs or spend time with your memories. Schedule video or phone chats to open gifts “together.” Or record and send video messages to family and friends, so they can view and replay them—and feel your presence during holiday celebrations.

Keep it real

If you have visions of the holidays being a certain way—with lots of fun, togetherness, love, joy, and no discord—you might feel disappointed if it turns out differently. It’s natural to feel this way, but take stock of how your expectations might have contributed to your letdown. Try experimenting with different ways of looking at things. For example, think about what’s behind your holiday expectations. Can the entire holiday season be filled with fun? How do you enjoy these times even if every family member isn’t present? And are your expectations for family gatherings realistic?

References

Emmons, R. A., & Stern, R. (2013). Gratitude as a psychotherapeutic intervention. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(8), 846–855. doi:10.1002/jclp.22020

Gordon, A. M., Impett, E. A., Kogan, A., Oveis, C., & Keltner, D. (2012). To have and to hold: Gratitude promotes relationship maintenance in intimate bonds. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103(2), 257–274. doi:10.1037/a0028723

Lambert, N. M., Fincham, F. D., & Stillman, T. F. (2012). Gratitude and depressive symptoms: The role of positive reframing and positive emotion. Cognition & Emotion, 26(4), 615–633. doi:10.1080/02699931.2011.595393

Lambert, N. M., Graham, S. M., Fincham, F. D., & Stillman, T. F. (2009). A changed perspective: How gratitude can affect sense of coherence through positive reframing. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(6), 461–470. doi:10.1080/17439760903157182

Thomas, J. L., Britt, T. W., Odle-Dusseau, H., & Bliese, P. D. (2011). Dispositional optimism buffers combat veterans from the negative effects of warzone stress on mental health symptoms and work impairment. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 67(9), 866–880. doi:10.1002/jclp.20809