The Challenges of Family Gatherings During the Holiday Season

How do I enjoy quality time with challenging family members this holiday season?

We all know the scenario, you are sitting down for a holiday meal with your family, excited for the togetherness yet nervously awaiting the conversation to go down the treacherous path of politics, religion, or worse your personal life choices that the family may have found befuddling. For some, this anxiety can be enough to keep them from enjoying time with their loved ones. Anxiety in these situations can lead to increased alcohol and tobacco consumption, high blood pressure, and an overall lag of your mental and emotional health. To ensure you are better equipped to enjoy the holidays without the added stress it can be helpful to plan some tricks for enjoying quality time with challenging family members.

First, remind yourself that you are proud of the person that you are and the beliefs that you have cultivated. There is nothing to be ashamed of. You might be worried that your cousins at the family gathering may make a fuss about you, perhaps because you underwent a fue hair restoration surgery. But to be honest, there is nothing to be ashamed of about yourself. You are who you wanted to be as a kid and you put effort to become that person. Remember that each one of us has chosen our own of dealing with life. Each one of us has own belief system, ranked the importance of our values, and grown into our wonderful identity. Whether the family can always recognize us as brave individuals we do not negate the truth that we are someone to be proud of. Reassuring yourself before entering a situation where your life and beliefs may be challenged can help you feel like you have ground to stand on when defending yourself from questioning family members. Remember, in almost all cases family members are coming from a place of love and concern. If at all it gets too much and you find it hard to cope, get one of those fidget toys (check to help you calm down.

Second, remember that your family member is proud of who they are. Just like you they have cultivated a belief system and value scale that works for them. Accepting people where they are at instead of getting angry at them for not being where you are is the first step to constructive communication. Trying to share different perspective and opinions gainfully instead of trying to tear one another down can often be more beneficial and lead to more fulfilling dialogue.

Of course, there is no denying that there may still be cases of charged conversation topics. So, the third and most important step to enjoying the holidays is self-care. Self-care is any action that you take in order to make yourself feel recharged. For some, it can be booking themselves a reservation for a session in a spa or sauna to relive their anxiety and depression (refer to for better reference), or having a cup of tea and a movie at the end of a long day. For others, it can be going to the gym or doing some light yoga within the confines of their home. Whatever it is that makes you feel grounded should be the activity you reserve for yourself the night you get home from family gatherings. Our tastes change as we get older and what makes us relax will differ, sometimes something a little stronger is needed and this could mean CBD products. For those that are worried, CBD isn’t psychoactive so it will not affect you in the way you may be apprehensive about, but it can certainly ease your stress and help with pain whether that be mental or physical so it is worth a look into if you need to desperately unwind. Family, whether chosen or biological, is one of life’s greatest and most exhausting gifts. There is no shame in acknowledging that regardless of how pleasant a gathering is there will be a need for re-energizing afterward. By taking care of yourself and allowing space in the world for the authentic version of yourself you will be able to love and care for the people around you more effectively than when you feel emotionally drained.

Courtney Stafford, LGBTQ Coordinator

The Cortland LGBTQ Center – A division of Family Counseling Services