Coming home for the holidays can be exciting for some, but can cause stress and anxiety for others.  Here are some things that can help you manage the stress and anxiety of seeing family for the holidays:

  1. Awareness

Take the time to get clarity around what is stressful or anxiety-provoking about coming home for the holiday season.  What are the fears that are driving the stress and anxiety? Fear of not living up to family expectations? Fear or negative judgements? Fear of feeling overwhelmed? Journalling and meditation can help clarify your thoughts and feelings. Speaking to a therapist can also help clarify and make sense of what you are experiencing.

  1. Cope ahead

In anticipation of a stressful event, plan ahead to use coping strategies. Have a game plan to manage intense feelings in the moment. This could be as simple as taking deep breaths to centre yourself before walking into the room or practicing some mindfulness prior to the event. Coping strategies can also include something you say to yourself or an image you bring up in your mind or an activity that you plan to do to manage difficult moments. The goal is to bring the intensity of the emotion down to a tolerable level so that you can ride it out and let it pass.  Remember, intense emotions do not last forever, they will subside. Coping ahead in anticipation of those moments will allow these moments to become more tolerable so that you can appreciate other enjoyable aspects of the event.  Speak to your therapist about personalized coping strategies that are effective for you.

  1. Communication

It is healthy and appropriate to have boundaries. Knowing your own boundaries and the boundaries of people in your life helps to build respectful and caring relationships. If you are trying to maintain a particular diet, it’s ok to communicate that and to remind people again, if you are feeling pressured to eat something you are not comfortable with.  Similarly, if you are someone who needs some quiet time, let your family know. That way others know and won’t question when you take that time. If there are certain topics of conversation that are uncomfortable for you, make that clear. If those topics do come up, no one will be surprised or think you’re rude if you walk away, since you’ve already made your boundary clear. Communication and assertiveness is challenging for many people. If you are someone who has trouble asserting and communicating your boundaries and needs, especially to family, talking to a therapist can help.

  1. Schedule breaks for self-care

Staying with family for the holidays can feel intense. Scheduling regular breaks can give you a reprieve from being “on” all the time and give you a chance to let loose.  Plan outings and engage in activities that are rejuvenating. Whether that is taking a walk in nature, getting your nails done or finding a quiet spot at the local library or bookstore, plan to do something that you enjoy, something that makes you feel good.  It could be alone or with someone you feel comfortable with. Try to avoid activities that are depleting.  So if seeing friends is enjoyable but taxing, perhaps choosing another self-care activity that is less depleting. Scheduling breaks for self-care can help reduce anxiety, manage stress and feel more ready for holiday gatherings.

  1. Have an ally – you are not alone

The thought of having to manage all on your own is stressful. The truth is, we are rarely really all alone.  Take stock of your social resources. It could be a family member that you are most comfortable with at the event or someone (friend/partner/family) that is just a text/call away.  Many of us experience challenging family dynamics. Opening up to a trusted friend, partner or other family members about your experiences can allow for opportunities to relate.  When you can feel that someone else understands and knows what you are experiencing, it reinforces that you are not alone.  Your therapist is also your ally and is always on your side.  Speaking to your therapist can also help you feel less alone. 

Coming home for the holidays can be stressful and anxiety-provoking for many people.  There are ways to help you manage, making it more possible for you to enjoy the holiday season.  If you are someone who finds coming home and seeing family for the holidays stressful, talk to your therapist, they can help.