With the holidays now approaching almost eerily quickly, you might already be feeling slightly uneasy about the family stresses that are bound to be on your plate (along with delicious Christmas cookies, of course). Spending a lot of time face-to-face with family can dig up old arguments or squabbles that everyone may have forgotten during the rest of the year.
You’re not the only one dealing with the drama, though, and while your own family issues might feel somewhat out of your control, there might be more you can do to take the edge off the stress that your friends are feeling in anticipation of holiday gatherings. Keep scrolling for eight expert tips for how to best offer support to your most stress-ridden BFFs.
1. Listen without judgment. Being a good listener is one of the most basic — and yet most important — things you can do as a friend 365 days of the year, but when tensions run high near the holidays, those listening skills become all the more crucial. You might even consider resisting the urge to speak, like, at all. “Be a good listener and don’t give advice,” licensed marriage and family therapist Katie Ziskind says. “Supporting someone doesn’t mean that you have to fix their problem. Instead, truly being supportive means giving a hug when someone is crying and being a caring friend.”
2. Prep your pal to expect the drama. Rather than reassuring your friend that things at family celebrations may not be as bad as they fear, trust what they know about the situation and help them wrap their head around what’s to come. This should minimize the stress for them in the long run. “If you expect it and it happens, situation normal,” certified life coach Susan Golicic tells us. “If you expect it and it doesn’t, well, then, a bonus!”
3. Help make a plan. Going into any situation with a plan almost always feels better than going in unprepared. Per writer, speaker, and healing expert Alisa Zipursky, a helpful plan might include specific check-in times, a code word that indicates your friend needs extra support, and ideas for creating healthy boundaries with family members who make them feel especially triggered. “The idea is to make asking for help as easy as possible,” Zipursky says. “Making sure a proactive plan is in place well before someone enters the stressful situation can help relieve some of the anticipatory anxiety.”
4. Check in often. Licensed counselor Maria Inoa recommends that you prioritize regular touch-base texts over the course of whatever event is causing your friend the most stress. It’s not about solving the conflicts or taking away their pain. Instead, you can focus on offering gentle reminders that you are thinking of them and are available if they need you.
5. Create new traditions. If your friend’s family holiday celebrations don’t exactly inspire positive feelings about the occasion, why not help them establish some better associations? Licensed clinical professional counselor Anna Poss suggests planning a “low-stress, fun way to celebrate with each other before or after the actual holiday.” Get a seasonal movie night or cookie swap on the calendar before everyone leaves town to hang with family. Those cozy vibes may help dull the negative, anxious feelings.
6. Write them a note. Grab some pretty stationery and put your love and support on paper for your BFF. “In the note, remind her how strong, courageous, and capable she is,” licensed psychotherapist and life coach Diane Petrella says. “Let her know how much you love and admire her and how grateful you are for her friendship. Write whatever you think your friend needs to hear to feel supported, grounded, and loved.” Remind her to hide the note in her pocket or bag so she can read it whenever she needs a little extra TLC over the course of the holidays. You can even go one step further and send them home with a care package, per therapist Shannon Thomas.
7. Invite your friend to your family celebrations. If things have gotten so bad with your bestie’s family that she wants to steer clear of their celebrations entirely, you may want to invite her to join you and your crew instead. Even if she opts to decline your invitation, it will mean a lot to her to know that she has choices. If your friend does take you up on the offer, Mountainside Treatment Center‘s family wellness manager Tina Muller recommends that you try to incorporate some of her favorite traditions into your holiday schedule.
8. Be available for a debrief. “Before an event with possible family issues even happens, schedule a time not long after to see the friend,” marriage and family therapist Sarah Epstein suggests. “Now you’ve become the light at the end of the tunnel for them.” Be prepared to be a listening ear over dinner or a workout session so your pal can vent about everything that’s gone on and (hopefully) be ready to move on from there.
How do you and your pals support each other through the not-so-fun parts of the holidays? Tweet us @BritandCo.
(Photo via Getty)