Dealing with Family Stress During the Holidays

Dealing with Family Stress During the Holidays

It’s safe to say that everyone loves their family. But sometimes, love isn’t enough to heal toxic patterns within your specific family unit. During the holiday season, you may be forced (or feel obligated) to spend more time with family. But sadly, this isn’t always a joyous occasion. If you are nervous about spending time with family this year, we are going to help you out with some tips to take care of yourself and your mental health in the meantime.

Setting boundaries

The first and probably most helpful tip is to set boundaries with family members. Is there a topic that your family members will usually bring up that makes you feel uncomfortable? Do you and your family have differing political beliefs? Or religious beliefs? Regardless of the topic or the reason you have for not wanting to discuss it, you have every right to decide some topics are off-limits. Setting boundaries is a healthy way to remain in relationships but protect yourself in the process. If you haven’t set boundaries in the past, family members may be confused or upset that you are standing up for yourself. This does not mean that you shouldn’t set the boundaries. If your family members are uncomfortable with the boundaries you are setting, it is their job to become comfortable with them. It is not your job to remove the boundaries to make them feel more comfortable.

It can be possible that some individuals do not respect your boundaries. Hopefully, you will not have to run into this issue. But if you do, being firm on your boundaries is extremely important. It can be hard to place boundaries and enforce them, but the alternative is having to cut off people in your life completely. If you would like to still have a relationship with these family members, setting boundaries can be the best thing you can do for your relationship. It is not your job to force anyone to accept your boundaries. All we can do is set boundaries in relationships and hope that the other person respects them. If they don’t respect them, this is not a reflection on you. You are doing everything in your power to take care of yourself while maintaining difficult relationships. 

Positive self-talk

Positive self-talk is always a useful tool to use, but it is especially important when going into a stressful situation. Reminding yourself that you are strong enough to make it through can do wonders in your attitude and outcome of the day. It’s also important to remind yourself that this holiday is likely one day. One day out of your year spent with people you love but may not be the healthiest people for you to be around. Sometimes reminding yourself that these situations will not be permanent can help you push through the day.

You can also try writing some affirmations down to keep handy during the difficult day. You can even write these affirmations on a notepad on your phone so that you can look at them without anyone seeing what you are looking at. Any affirmations that remind you that you will be able to make it through can be helpful for you. You can even draft affirmations with your therapist in anticipation of painful topics that may come up with your family. It may seem silly at first, but affirmations are scientifically proven to rewire our mindset and views of ourselves.

Setting up lifelines

If the most supportive person in your life is not within your family, try explaining to them how you are struggling with the upcoming holiday with family members. This can be your partner, a friend, or even your therapist. Having someone to call or text during the day you are concerned about can be extremely comforting and help make the day seem more bearable. Thankfully, with technology and all of its wonders, there are many ways to communicate with people aside from having face-to-face contact. Even the thought that someone understands you are going to be having a tough day can be enough to comfort you throughout it.

Having an exit plan

If you have tried all of the above tactics and still feel like you cannot handle being around certain family members, have a plan of how you will get yourself out of the situation. This doesn’t mean you have to leave in the middle of Christmas dinner, but maybe you have to get up early the next day and set expectations you will not be staying too late. Whatever you need to do to help yourself feel the most comfortable during these tough days is important for you to do.

It can be common for people that have complex relationships with family members to feel guilt that they feel this way. It’s important to be gentle with yourself and remember that you cannot control the behavior, beliefs, or comments of others. You can only control your reactions to them and how you move forward with your life. Humans all navigate life in different ways and there is no reason to feel guilt for being different than members of your family.

Relationships, in general, can bring a lot of challenges even if they are close or healthy. Understanding this truth can help you to be less hard on yourself when conflict arises. The holidays can be a wonderful time to celebrate with people you love, but that doesn’t mean that all problems just disappear. Understanding that when the holiday season comes around, you don’t have to be happy and joyful all the time can help take some of the pressure off. When people deal with mental health issues, it’s not realistic for them to be happy all of the time. Your mental health is just as important during the holiday season as it is during the rest of the year. You are doing the best you can and reminding yourself of that can help things feel a little less heavy.

Getting Help 

If you are in need of counseling services, we offer online services for anyone living in Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. We also have in-person counseling services for patients in the DFW area. We understand that the holidays can be a difficult time and we can help support you in whatever way that you need.

Dr. Michael Messina

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