Preparing for Holiday Gatherings

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With the holidays coming up, there can be added stress around upcoming family functions that could lead to stressful pressure and unwanted conversations about politics, family planning, religion, etc. Whether you are hosting the event or visiting a family member or friend’s home, it is impossible to control others’ responses, opinions, or reactions. However, there are some things you can do to be intentional about the holidays and reduce your reactivity and stress level.

Preparing for Holiday Gatherings

Things to do before the holiday:

  1. Make a gratitude list and find things that you appreciate about your loved ones who will be at the upcoming holiday. Regardless of political views, religious beliefs, personality traits, etc., there are things that you appreciate about your family and friends. Having these at the surface of your mind can help you have compassion and empathy for them, even if your viewpoints differ greatly.
  2. Do some journaling about how you are feeling about the upcoming holiday, what your responses might be to certain topics/statements, and make a list of your values. This can help you to better understand yourself and what is important to you. If you do engage in tough conversations during the holiday, having a strong understanding of why you believe what you believe can be super helpful. It may also be helpful to come up with some non-controversial topics that you can have ready for the day of, in order to try to direct the conversation toward more positive, neutral topics.
  3. Establish some boundaries ahead of time. If this is a possibility, you could request a “no political talk” thanksgiving and try to focus on things that bring the family together. However, it is so important to do your own work (see #1 and #2) to eliminate being triggered and having an extremely emotional reaction to a comment or discussion. Plan ahead to sit with someone you feel most comfortable with, preferably someone who will be attending that aligns with your values.

During the holiday:

  1. Be mindful of your flight or fight response and focus on your breathing. Before entering the festivities, you may want to consider doing a loving kindness meditation to help ground yourself and enter into the space more intentionally.
  2. Try to limit the amount of alcohol readily available for consumption. Alcohol can lower inhibitions and result in people speaking with less forethought.
  3. Try to keep moving. Go for a walk, help chop veggies, or suggest a family stroll. Being physical can help alleviate frustrations and force us to control our breathing. Breathing is extremely helpful in regulating our emotions in times of stress.
  4. Be intentional about your responses and pay attention to your body. Are you starting to have a physical reaction to a conversation? Maybe it’s time to try to switch the topic.
  5. Stick to your boundaries and exit when necessary. Are things getting too heated? Instead of storming off angrily, excuse yourself to the restroom or offer to do the dishes. Try to make sure your reaction to the controversy matches up with the values you have journaled about before the festivities.

Holidays can be difficult. Entering into the holidays with intention, along with giving space for differences but being firm in your boundaries, can decrease your stress leading up to the holiday and make for a more pleasant time with the people you love.