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How To Navigate The Holidays Without Strong Family Relationships

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Navigating The Holidays Without Strong Family Relationships

The holiday season is near and dear to millions of people around the world. I mean, some people can hardly wait to put the Christmas tree up until after Halloween! Besides the festive traditions, the holidays are typically viewed as a time to celebrate togetherness and spend time with family, strengthening bonds and focusing on what matters most.

But the holiday cheer does not ring true for everyone. For many, the holidays are stressful and triggering. Gatherings with strained family relationships can bring on depression and anxiety just at the thought of going to one. And for others without family or away from them, the most wonderful time of the year is the most difficult.

If this sounds like you – you wouldn’t be the only one. A survey found that the holidays negatively affected mental health for 3 in 5 Americans. Despite this, everyone deserves to enjoy the holiday in whatever way they wish. I encourage you to find a new meaning of what this season means for you. If you’re not sure where to start, these are some practical tips to help you navigate the holidays with difficult family dynamics.

Set Boundaries

Boundaries are always important. They’re even more necessary when dealing with people who habitually cross them. If you know that your family is going to trigger you or give you trouble during the holidays, it’s important to set crystal clear boundaries. Getting clear on what your holiday boundaries will be, helps to ease the stress of anticipating negative interactions.

Reframe Your Expectations

Even before the holiday fun begins, dreadful thoughts about being around difficult family or spending that time alone can make the experience worse. It’s easy to get sucked into the narrative of how things tend to go each year. Thankfully, you have the power to change your experience by changing the thoughts you have about it.

Try to become aware of the thoughts you repeatedly have around going into the holidays. Do they just make you angry or irritable? A lot of times we forget that we have more control than we think we do. Instead of getting stuck in a negativity loop, you can change your expectations. For example, if you get into a negative situation, plan ahead of time to remove yourself from it.

Create New Traditions

Difficult relatives can ruin the entire holiday experience. If you decide that being around certain family members isn’t good for your health, consider changing your plans. Your well-being is the most important. Things don’t have to be the same as they’ve always been.

Traditions are important and nice to have, but only if they are healthy. A healthy tradition fosters a sense of belonging and strengthens relationships. Instead of settling for a dreadful holiday each year, create an experience you love and look forward to repeating each year!

Prioritize Self-Care

You might get caught up in the idea that the holidays are about everyone around us and showing appreciation for them. Managing difficult relationships is a lot tougher if you aren’t taking care of yourself first. There is never a good time to neglect self-care.

True self-care is more than bubble baths and our favorite treats. It is setting boundaries and prioritizing your needs. The point is not to abandon yourself for the sake of pleasing others. And if you’re alone for the holiday, it’s even more important that your needs are prioritized.

Stay Mindful

If you really struggle around the holidays, your mental health can benefit from mindfulness. Mindfulness can be hard at any time of the year. Life is busy, there are so many things to consume our attention It’s tough to remember to slow down and stop running toward the future.

Being mindful is especially difficult around the holidays. On top of everyday life, this season might remind you of the loved ones you’ve lost, the people you don’t yet have in your life and the stress of doing something special. That’s a lot of extra stimulation.

But it’s for this reason that implementing a mindfulness practice becomes so important. Mindfulness can be the device that changes the tune of what the holidays mean and look like for you. So, make time for activities that encourage. you to slow down and become present. Here are some ideas.

  • Mediation

  • Breathing exercises

  • Full body scan

  • Distraction-free walk

  • Gratitude journal

Talk To Someone

Dysfunctional family dynamics can bring a lot of stress, and not just around the holidays. Family plays a major role in your mental health. Therapy is one of the most effective ways to handle the depression and anxiety that often follows strained relationships.

If you’re alone for the holidays – that can bring a different kind of stress. Feeling lonely makes mental health matters worse. Talking to a therapist can help you navigate these feelings.

Whatever the case may be, everyone deserves to enjoy what is considered one of the happiest times of the year. Talking to a therapist can help you navigate family conflict or help you redefine what family is to you.

Here at Dr. Messina and Associates, our compassionate team of professionals are qualified to help you at our Flower Mound, Texas, and Southlake, Texas, offices. Our Psychologists, Psychiatrists, and Counselors specialize in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychological testing, and medication management for a variety of emotional and behavioral health needs. All services are available in-person and online (telehealth). If you or a loved one are seeking help with mental health, we are here to help.


Picture of Dr. Michael Messina

Dr. Michael Messina

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