Family Time, Anxious Time. 5 Tips to Surviving the Holidays

December 1, 2019
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Holiday time can be exciting or dreadful, and a lot of that can depend on your family situation. There can be a lot of anxious feelings and thoughts that you may feel leading up to the holidays and during. Here are a few tips on how to manage that anxiety and set yourself up for a more pleasant visit.

1. Boundary Setting

Setting boundaries may be a catch phrase you hear from time to time. What this means is setting limits for yourself and for others. While they may feel uncomfortable or like you’re being rude, we set them (and should set them) to help our own mental health and our relationships with those we the set the boundaries with. For example, if visiting certain relatives is too stressful, you can set a time boundary. For example, tell them up front you can only stay for an hour. You can decide how much more information you want to share with them about that decision. Another example of a boundary can be a physical boundary, which may be opting not to see certain family members at all if they have been detrimental to your mental health. While those family members may feel frustrated or angry, it’s important to remember that boundary setting is a practice in self-care, and it is okay to feel uncomfortable about it.

2. Take Breaks

Giving yourself permission to take breaks from family is also acceptable. Whether that is taking a break between dinner and dessert at the Thanksgiving table or even 15 minutes after arriving. In your break, give yourself a private place to go, whether that is a room, your car, or for a walk outside. In that time, practice some deep breathing or other grounding skills such as focusing on the present environment in explicit detail. When you know you can give yourself a break when you need it, that can sometimes keep from feeling trapped and anxiety spiraling out of control.

3. Access Your Support System

Prior to visiting family for holidays such as Thanksgiving, identify people in your life you can call, text, or even bring with you to buffer any stress family time may bring. Inform them you may be reaching out if you need some words of support or a place to vent. You can also be that support for them if you feel like you are in a stable place to hold others discomfort.

4. Basic Self-Care

Under stressful situations, it is easy to forget to take care of our basic needs. Remember to prioritize eating regularly, staying hydrated, and practicing hygiene. If you are prescribed any medications, especially for mood or anxiety, pay extra attention to not miss any doses. This may seem minor, but if we are hungry, dehydrated, and not consistent with medications, that is one extra obstacle in what is already a potentially stressful situation.

5. Preparing Helpful Responses

Have a few phrases you are comfortable saying planned for any uncomfortable situations you may anticipate. For example, if your family typically comments on your relationship status, you can say, “I’m focused on (insert activity/value) right now”, or “That’s not exciting or fun to talk about it! But you know what is? (Insert something exciting or fun you are doing)”. Feeling more prepared for conversations that are uncomfortable can help ease anxiety about these awkward or rude moments, even if they have good intentions.

While family time likely has its ups and downs, it is normal to feel anxious about spending time with them. Especially if you have expanded your life outside of them and have changed as you have grown. Keep in mind some of these tips, and hopefully they will help to make your holidays more enjoyable. 

Alyssa Greene, LPCC has a Masters degree from University of Wisconsin in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She is a licensed therapist  practicing in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Alyssa has experience in working with various populations, but most experience working with eating disorders and body image.