Finding Your Holiday Happy Place

Mind Matters Holiday Stress

Tips for a conflict-free season

Going the distance to visit family conjures up images of love and warmth for many. However, unpleasant reality can quickly set in making some people feel apprehensive about loved ones. Holiday fun is still possible even with lingering family issues. Overall, it is important to focus on positive togetherness.

“Holidays should not focus on the cooking, decorating and all that needs to be done. Most importantly, it is not a time to resolve differences and conflicts that have occurred in the past,” says Kathy Locke, M.S.W., a counselor with Commonwealth Catholic Charities in Richmond, Virginia.

The holidays are a time to celebrate, she emphasizes. It is also a time to be positive about spending time with loved ones and helping the generations connect.

Dr. Michelle Clark, a clinical psychologist at Clinical Associates of Tidewater and a lecturer in the psychology department at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia, says it is important to view a family visit as a positive experience, not one to dread.

“If you see it as high stress, then it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy and that can cause it to be unpleasant,” Clark says.

For those going home for the holidays for the first time, it can be difficult because some might think time stood still, when it did not.

Clark says, “some family members may see you as the same age as when you left. They may not realize that you have grown and changed. This could create some tension.”

She suggests just enjoying the time. “It is not a time to teach your family about the new you,” Clark says.

One way Locke helps her family reconnect during the holidays is to have each family member say something for which they are thankful during the past year and something for which they are hopeful for in the upcoming year.

This allows insight into each other’s lives, Locke adds.

When dealing with someone who raises uncomfortable subjects or attempts to aggravate, both experts agree deflecting the conversation is best.

“Know in advance how to deal with it and do not engage. If you know you have a relative who can be combative, then change the subject, do not advance it,” Clark says.

Redirect, ignore and when redirecting, change it to something positive. That is when people will pay attention,” Locke adds.

“It is also not a time to convince someone to change their mind on a subject. If they believe something different from you, then let it rest. The holidays are not a time to discuss it,” Locke says.

Scheduling conflicts can happen when visiting relatives. For instance, Locke says you may want to visit old friends or a local spot, while others prefer to stay home. She says it is best to come up with a compromise.

“No one wants the visit to be negative. If there is a conflict, first put a positive spin on it by saying something like, ‘That sounds fun but we wanted to go to the museum,’ for example, followed by, ‘What can we do to make this work?’” Locke says.

Clark says it is best to schedule plans prior to the visit.

“If there is an issue, talk about it. Do not email or text because people can interpret the wrong tone,” Clark says.

“What is important to remember is this is a celebration,” Locke says. “It is not a time to bring up hurts or a time to judge. It is a time to celebrate and enjoy. That is what makes the holidays so beautiful.”