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Does Your Family Drive You Nuts? How To Survive Family Holidays Without Being Stressed

Updated: Apr 16

Do you slightly dread the holidays? Feel a slight pinprick of fear at the idea of spending a holiday with your family? Sometimes they go great, and in other years your family is crying before, during, or perhaps after dinner. Maybe you have a cousin who makes comments about your weight, lack of engagement, or divorce. Maybe you’ve moved away and are really different politically than your family and hate coming home and back into that culture. Somewhere inside you is a slight dread at the idea of another holiday with your family and wishing it would already be over. You don’t want your plans hijacked or have to spend time talking about things that you aren’t comfortable talking about with family.

Families are tricky, especially as an adult going back home. There are expectations, roles to play, and wondering when to assert yourself or set boundaries with your family or when to step back.

1: Make A Plan

Before entering into the holiday atmosphere with your family, make a plan upfront. Think about how long you want to be there, what you are willing to agree to doing with your family, and a possible reason to cut your visit short if needed. Communicate this to your family, partner, and friends to make sure that everyone is on the same page.

2: Figure Out Off Limit Topics/Boundaries To Set With Your Family

You have one or two topics that you know will not end well if brought up by a family member. Possibly why you aren’t dating anyone, or engaged or married yet. Maybe why you haven’t had kids yet if you are married. It could also be politics or COVID. These topics could easily turn into hurt feelings or a fight, so it is important to know what topics you feel safe and comfortable talking to your family about, and what boundary to set if an uncomfortable topic is brought up. If your off-limit topic is brought up, one way to handle it would be to acknowledge the interest and then change the subject. “Thanks for being interested, but that is not a conversation I’m comfortable with having today. What are you looking forward to next year? Any big plans?”

3: Figure Out Breaks

Holidays can be daunting to spend with family as it is so much forced togetherness that normally doesn’t occur. Normally, you can tell mom goodbye as you need to go to a meeting or the gym. With your family, you can’t hang up the phone that easily. So plan out your breaks. Bathroom breaks, game breaks, call a friend breaks, offer to pick something up from the store breaks, whatever. Just make sure you have a few different plans in case you need to get away or get out of the house for a minute to breathe.

4: Take Care Of Yourself

Meditate, practice yoga, go for walks, do whatever you need to do to help you stay calm around your family. Families can trigger a lot of emotions and stress, so be sure to take care of yourself and practice excellent self-care before, during, and after your trip so you don’t end up in a situation where you weren’t your best or weren’t able to control your emotions.

5: Remember You Can’t Change Them (Only Yourself)

Often, we want the people in our lives to change. However, you can’t actually change the people in your life, they have to be willing to change or want to get help. If they aren’t, the only person you can change is yourself and your reactions to them. This is why Step 4: Take Care Of Yourself is so important. When you give yourself self-care, you can change your reactions to them or be able to use assertive communication. If you are debating if your family needs help or can DIY it, click here.

Families can be tricky. While they mean well, it can be a hotbed of emotion, triggers, patterns of communication, and even trauma reminders. It can be hard to spend a large amount of time with family without feeling on edge or annoyed at their antics and wishing you were away. To keep this as a good holiday with your family, remember your boundaries, that you can’t change them only yourself, and to take care of yourself first before engaging with them.

If you are looking for individual counseling, Mary Willoughby Prentiss is a licensed professional counselor in the state of Virginia who provides online therapy for Willow Tree Healing Center. She enjoys transforming the lives of women, college students, kids, tweens/teens, and families through providing communication strategies, coping skills that work, allowing a safe space to be heard, and actively working towards helping you with your challenges. She is certified in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (ages 2-7) and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, counsels substance abuse in teens and adults, and practices Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy.

Please sendan email to to explore working together.

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