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. Each one of us has chosen our own belief system, ranked the importance of our values, and grown into our wonderful identity. Whether family can always recognize us for the brave individuals we are does 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 to questioning family members. Remember, in most all cases family members are coming from a place of love and concern.

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 a cup of tea and a movie at the end of a long day, for others it can be going to the gym or some light yoga. Whatever it is that makes you feel grounded should be the activity you reserve for yourself the night you get home from family gatherings. 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

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