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Coping with Family Gatherings

The holidays can be a wonderful time of the year. Visiting with friends and family, attending gatherings and celebrations, enjoying all the holiday food, exchanging gifts, and getting into the holiday spirit can bring joy and excitement to many. The holidays can also bring stress and anxiety, especially to those individuals who become nervous at family gatherings or may not get along with individual family members. Politics, religion, and past family drama can often be the center of conversation at family holiday gatherings.  These conversations can potentially result in hurt feelings and arguments. Individuals long for belonging and feeling connected, especially during the holidays. We spread ourselves thin and overexert ourselves emotionally, physically, and financially. Avoiding family burnout or toxicity is essential to enjoy the holidays and protect your mental well being. Below are a few tips to help you cope with family gatherings: 

 Coping with Family Gathering Tips

  • Stay away from heated discussions: Don’t talk about politics, past fights or any hot topics that can bring up unwanted emotions
  • Make the conversation about them: Ask your family members questions about their interests and any recent happenings in their life. This can take the pressure off of you.
  • Do not try and reconcile: Many of us try to mend broken relationships around the holidays; however, this has the potential to make things worse. Stay away from trying to fix any past relationships and focus on the present moment. 
  • Establish healthy boundaries: An individual family member may trigger you, and it is okay to keep your distance or just say “no” when invited to a holiday gathering. Know your limits with certain individuals and do not be afraid to excuse yourself from a situation politely. 
  • Take time for yourself: If you feel that a particular friend or family member is causing you to stress around the holidays then take more time to yourself rather than allow those feelings to fester or worse, confront the individual. 
  • Learn something new about a family member: We often are so tied up with the same conversations that we seldom try to dig deep and learn new things about individuals. Maybe your uncle served in the war or your aunt used to be a fantastic skier. Sometimes diving deeper into healthy conversations can strengthen a family bond. 
  • Your mom or dad will be grateful: It is typical for mom, dad, or grandpa to want to have the whole family in the same room. This can mean the world to them. Try to concentrate on the fact that your loved one is going to be extra happy on this day because the whole family is finally together. 
  • Be grateful and remember that many individuals spend the holiday alone: Use these moments to be thankful for having friends and family. 

Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a clinical content writer and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of mental health and addiction medicine. She is a family medicine physician and author, who also teaches and contributes to medicine board education. Her passion lies within educating the public on preventable diseases, including mental health disorders and the stigma associated with them. She is also an outdoor activist and spends most of her free time empowering other women to get outside into the backcountry.

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