Survival Guide for Family Holidays

by | Nov 23, 2022

If the holidays feel difficult or stressful for you because you find it challenging to be around some or all of your family, that’s completely normal.

Equip yourself with these family holiday survival tips courtesy of the Stanford University BeWell Program to help keep things merry and bright.

Why are the holidays stressful for many families?

  • “Expectations are elevated during the holidays because of family rituals and assumptions about ‘how the holidays are supposed to be.’”
  • “The expectations we have of each other (because we’re related) can make it difficult to “be ourselves,” especially if we have different values and goals than do other family members.”
  • “Because of pre-established roles of who we are supposed to be and how we are supposed to act (based on gender, birth order, family rules, family rituals), family systems do not always give us the space to be who we are.”

man on floor under Christmas tree

People want to belong and feel connected during the holidays. This desire can be so strong that we overextend ourselves emotionally, physically and financially. Examples of this include the following:

  • Spending money to travel to be with family/loved one(s) with limited finances
  • Buying gifts one cannot afford
  • Attending social/family functions because we “have to” or “should”
  • Preparing an elaborate, “perfect” meal or celebration

How can you make a positive change this year?
Here are several handy tips from the BeWell Program that can make for a more enjoyable holiday season:

  • Identify what is about the holidays that get you down. Once identified, deal with it directly.
  • If doing the “same old thing” gets you down, don’t do the same old thing.
  • Don’t expect miracles; keep your expectations of others and self realistic.
  • Don’t “overdo”: plan ahead of time, prioritize what needs to be done and try to involve others with the preparation.
  • Don’t worry about how things should be or what you should do but do what you can do and more importantly what you want to do.
  • If the holidays make you feel out of control, “take control” over the holidays by taking timeouts for yourself. Have more self-compassion and accept your limitations.
  • Use humor; try to see the lighter side of life and not take yourself so seriously.
  • Stick to a budget for gift giving and food shopping, or even consider alternatives to gift giving.
  • Minimize over-indulging in food and alcohol as way to cope with stress.

young woman stressed at Christmas

Need help with that “one relative” who makes things difficult? 

Every family has at least one “toxic relative.” Because of the expectation of being together during the holidays, there’s pressure to “put up” with someone you’d generally avoid.

  • Have realistic expectations of yourself and others.
  • Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. It’s not a good idea to use the holidays to “confront.”
  • Identify ahead of time the “Hot Topics” — i.e., those subjects to avoid.
  • Establish “healthy” boundaries for yourself: It’s OK to say “no.”

We hope these family holiday survival tips help you navigate any stressful situations that may arise. If you ever feel the need to talk to someone, we’re always happy to connect you with one of our licensed professional counselors. Please contact us to schedule an appointment.


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