5 Tips to Deal with Stressful Holiday Gatherings

By Leslie Bourne, PhD
Behavioral Health, Reliant Medical Group

Ah, the holidays….for some, it’s truly a favorite time of year, for many others…not so much.

From the aunt who greets you every year with the words, “Are you still single?” to the sister who never misses a chance to one-up you, every family has someone that with just a few words can increase your stress level dramatically. Fortunately, most of us accept the fact that our family gatherings will not resemble a Norman Rockwell illustration any time soon. However, with the right perspective, you can make it through the holidays even if your loved ones are, shall we say, a bit less than perfect.

So here are some tips on dealing with some of the typical family culprits:

The Overly Critical Mother-in-Law

When your mother-in-law starts questioning why you’re not making the gravy exactly like she has for the last 40 years, don’t do a slow burn. The best way is to divert her to a task that she would enjoy doing or guide her into the living room to be with your other guests. Take solace in the fact that seemingly all mothers-in-law can be difficult at times.

The One-Upping Sibling

Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean sibling relationships are all sugar and spice. If one of your siblings enjoys one-upping you at family gatherings, it could be rooted in envy. To avoid this familiar dynamic, try mentioning an important accomplishment that will make them feel better. Such as, “Remember when you went to the prom with the guy who went to West Point? What was his name?” Sometimes playing nice is the best way to prevent things from getting testy.

The Uncle with a Drinking Problem

We all know alcohol has the potential to cause issues at any holiday gathering. Since people often act poorly when they are under the influence of alcohol, it’s best to be pro-active and intervene before someone has too much. Consider telling your family members that you’re limiting everyone to a single drink and that’s it. Most importantly, don’t let anyone drive home if they have had too much – and always prepare a spare bedroom in case someone overindulges.

The Highly Political Cousin

Whether they’re coming from the right or the left, some people just love to push other people’s political buttons. Instead of doing battle, the best way to deal with this is to steer the conversation in another direction. “So how about those Celtics?” or, “I don’t have much time to follow politics that closely…have you tried this cheesecake? It’s amazing!” Often, people like this are trying hard to provoke a response, so don’t take the bait by reacting.

The Irritable and/or Moody Teenager

Teenagers tend to have their issues, so try not to be overly judgmental at their behavior. If they seem standoffish or barely grunt at you when you ask a question, try not to take it personally. However, if they do decide to converse, ask them about their interests and how they like to spend their time. Teenagers often do enjoy engaging with adults in conversation (at least when they’re not staring at their phones).

Most of all, try not to make too big a deal about the holidays. Remember that love them or hate them, the holidays will pass, and it will be January sooner than you think!

5 Tips to Deal with Stressful Holiday Gatherings

About Leslie Bourne, PhD

Dr. Leslie Bourne almost became a lawyer instead of a doctor. “I went to Cornell University as an undergraduate because they had a good law school there. However, I took a great course in psychology in my junior year and decided that’s what really interested me. So I decided to change course and go into the field of psychology.”

In her work as a behavioral psychologist, Dr. Bourne always respects the patient and tries to...

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2 Responses

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  1. Posted by Faith

    Hi, I enjoyed the advice for the holiday gatherings and continue to read the news letters sent. My advice for the individual with a drinking issue. Or one that drinks one to many, do not serve alcohol. There’s plenty of other liquids to wash down a great meal and hydrate. You don’t have to serve alcohol at Thanksgiving or Christmas. If the alcohol is t there than they can’t drink it.

    December 22, 2017 6:29 am Reply
  2. Posted by TaraHoward

    I wish you had mentioned “Don’t be any of these characters yourself.”

    December 19, 2017 3:48 pm Reply

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