When You’ve Had Your Fill of Family: Keys to a Fulfilling Holiday

woman with scarf holding cupFor some people, the holidays are a joyous and festive time. But for many, the holidays are a time of stress, sadness, and loneliness. There may be long-standing family feuds, deaths, grief, and addictions that are heightened during the holidays. Rather than dread or avoid interactions with your family, though, there are alternatives to consider.

The most important thing that you can do to have a less stressful holiday is to set realistic expectations. This means identifying what is realistic to expect from yourself and others. If your family has heavy drinkers and there are often arguments during family gatherings, it makes sense to expect that to be true this holiday as well. In setting realistic expectations, ask yourself the following questions: (1) What situation is likely to cause the most stress? (2) What person is likely to cause the most stress? (3) Based on previous holidays, what problem usually happens during these gatherings?

After settling on what to expect, take the time to plan and prepare for the holiday. Make a plan to deal with the stress that you expect to encounter. Each plan will be different and specific to that particular situation. However, there are some key points to remember when planning to make your holiday less stressful:

  • First, ask yourself what you need to get through this event. What will make the gathering more manageable for you? Consider limiting the time you spend at the event. A wonderful guiding rule is to stay for as long as you can be kind. Some people can stay for seven hours and remain kind, while for others it will be 20 minutes. Every family, circumstance, and individual need is different. Pay attention to what you need in order to be kind rather than comparing yourself to others.
  • Stay for as long as you can be kind. This may mean leaving early. If you typically stay with your family for a full day but don’t plan to this year, inform your host or closest relative ahead of time. Let them know that your plans are different this year to give them time to adjust their expectations for the day as well.
  • Bring a friend. An outsider can act as a buffer and mitigate the stress of the situation. Many times, families and colleagues are on “good behavior” when an outsider is present. If you have a family event or work gathering that you are concerned about attending, bring a friend to support you and be your buffer.
  • Give yourself a job or task to accomplish. At stressful family gatherings, play with the kids instead of engaging in challenging conversations and interactions with the adults. Offer to be the go-fer and volunteer to run to the store for whatever last-minute item is needed. Taking breaks as needed throughout the event can help you stay there for as long as you can be kind.
  • Managing yourself and others during the holiday season is a juggling act. You want to meet your needs while also tending to the needs of your family and your relationships with your family. As much stress and conflict as families can cause, they also play a key role in who we are. Though family events can be challenging, we can prepare ourselves to enjoy them.
  • Finally, plan a celebration with your friends to celebrate getting through the holidays! Host a potluck dinner, go to the movies, or simply schedule time to hang out and swap holiday stories. Knowing that you have a joyful post-holiday celebration planned can make the holidays easier to manage.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Julia


    December 24th, 2013 at 3:01 AM

    Stay for as long as I can be kind?
    Oh well, I guess I better be ready to walk out and leave as soon as I can get there ;)

  • aundra


    December 24th, 2013 at 5:45 AM

    Why not instead of thinking of all the ways that the family ugs you think about all of the good things that they bring to your life? Now that’s one way to make the holidays even more special and to really begin to grasp what the day is supposed to be baout in the first place. I have spent an awful lot of my whole life thinking about the many ways that life would be better if only I did not have to put up with this or that. But would I really want to lose any of these people who are related to me and have a shared history with me that could never be replicated? When you think about it that way it brings a little more perspective to you, and lets you see how sad it would be if you actually didn’t have these people in your life anymore.

  • George


    December 26th, 2013 at 4:11 AM

    Surely I am not the only person who has skipped certain events because I know that they are not good for me? There might be too much drinking or too much underlying animosity, so I have just not gone before. This year I don’t think that I had one like that but if I had then it would be a pajama and movie kind of day because gettin g so worked up about people ypu might only see once or twice every year just isn’t worth the expenditure of energy anymore. Let those who will get made get mad, the people who love you will understand and know that this is something that you need to do for you to maintain your sanity.

  • kell


    December 27th, 2013 at 5:49 AM

    Why not be thankful that you have family?
    I lost both parents at a young age and have always longed for the busy holidays with rowdy parents and cousins but I don’t have any of that.
    I wish that I had some the situations like what are described to kind of stress me out because that would signify time with others and not just being a little lonely like I tend to be.
    Don’t feel bad, I do have friends and they always try to include me in their famiily things and it’s great and I do appreciate that but it doesn’t make up for missing my parents and the time that I wish that I could have had with them instead.

  • Sean


    December 29th, 2013 at 7:18 AM

    Well now that it’s all over we can all go back to our normal boring lives and start looking forward to doing it all over again next year!

  • Berni


    December 30th, 2013 at 4:11 AM

    Okay so if there’s drinking and that bothers you then is it okay for you to leave before the heaviest drinking begins? That way you can put in an appearance but make a getaway before things get to that out of control place that you might wish to avoid.

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