Holiday Stress: Dealing with Family

Tips to Help Avoid and Navigate Conflict During the Holidays
Family sitting at dinner table in background of a Christmas tree

Holidays are synonymous with family gatherings. Whether that excites you or causes a knot to form in your stomach, there are always family members you might not want to deal with. Help alleviate some of your holiday stress with these tips on dealing with difficult situations during family holidays.

Questions to Ask When Handling Conflict

Is this my battle?

Asking yourself, "Is this my battle?" can help you decide if this should land on your shoulders. If you are concerned with how your children are parenting their kids or with how your sister is being treated by her husband, consider if the problem is in any way your responsibility. It's probably not, especially not during Christmas lunch.

How will this affect others?

Consider the ramifications of having an awkward or tense conflict at the family event. How will the conflict affect others? It may cause trauma or uneasiness for your parents, your kids, your siblings, or anyone else who decided to join in the family holiday.

Is it worth it?

Weigh the necessity of the conflict. After considering the ramifications of initiating a difficult situation, ask yourself if the battle still makes sense.

Should I host?

Consider hosting the holiday or NOT depending on the situation. For example, you may want to host the event to keep people busy and set up strategic seating to keep certain people away from each other. On the other hand, it might be better not to host if you want the ability to leave early if necessary. Think about your needs, enforce boundaries when necessary, and don't put too much pressure on yourself.

What are my expectations?

Reflect on your expectations before any family gathering. Are you expecting everyone to get along and sit around the tree and sing holiday songs? For some families, that is unrealistic. We don't choose our family or the people they marry. There's probably a good reason if they are not in your life more than just during the holidays. We need to be able to tolerate them for a couple of hours. 

Do I need a break?

If it all gets to be too much, take a break. Move to a different part of the house, go outside for a walk, or sit next to a family member you enjoy being around.

What else can we do?

You can distract yourself and others when difficult situations start to arise. You can help other family members by diffusing the problem before it gets out of hand. Try changing the subject to a lighter topic.

Plan activities like board games or crafts to keep everyone busy. Don't let there be time for significant conflict. If your family gathering is an all-day or multiple-day event, schedule a shopping trip or a coffee run for whoever wants to join.

Avoiding Conflict

Even with all these tips in your back pocket, it can still be hard to completely diffuse every situation where conflict might present itself. Here are a few different ways to avoid conflict and protect yourself if it does happen.

Keep yourself busy

Help out in the kitchen, play games with the kids, or initiate good conversation with people you like.

Rest up

Make sure you get a good night's sleep before a big family gathering. It's hard to deal with difficult family situations and holiday stress when you're running on empty.

Keep a clear mind

Stay away from alcohol, especially if you know it will make things worse.

Place yourself strategically

Position yourself away from family members you don't get along with. Sit at opposite ends of the table or completely different tables if it's an option.

Have a game plan

Talk to your spouse about possible conflicts and agree on a plan for handling or avoiding those conflicts. Decide on a code word that can help signal when it is time to go. You can also do this with other family members as well.

When Conflict Happens

Sometimes there's just nothing you can do about it. Conflict is going to happen. If it does arise, keep these things in mind.

Stay level-headed

Be the bigger person. Someone has to remain calm in difficult situations. Why shouldn't it be you?

Stay calm

Take a deep breath or more! Getting riled up will only make the situation worse.

Don't stay at all

If you need to, it's okay to walk away. Before doing so, make a calm statement like, "I understand you want to talk about this now, but I am not sure this is a good time for me to discuss this. I would be interested in talking about this at a different time." Just walking away without warning might cause them to chase you, so make sure you say something reasonable first.

Start with a good mindset and be ready to avoid conflict. Don't let the holiday stress get to you - control your situation. Stay strong and good luck!