5 Tips on Managing Family Stress During The Holidays

by Yiolanta Sofiali-Brunvert, Ph.D

It’s that time of year!

Most of us feel warm and fuzzy around the holidays as we are surrounded by Christmas trees and decorations. There are bright lights, Christmas music and movies, and, of course, family – the embodiment of the holidays.

However, for some, conjuring up images of a happy family gathered around the Christmas tree or dinner table is not always the case. Instead, they anticipate interactions that lead to tension, conflict, stress, and loneliness.

Maybe you have separated from your significant other recently. But still, have to come together because of the kids. You could be someone that is dreading interaction with a toxic in-law, parent or any other family member that has hurt or disappointed you in the past. It could just be a difficult family member that you just cannot get along with.

5 Tips on Managing Family Stress

Here are some suggestions for dealing with stressful family relationships during the holidays, and breaking toxic interactional cycles that may have occurred in the past:

  • Set boundariesHave a conversation with certain family members before they arrive. Know your limits and do not be afraid to verbalize them in a respectful manner. For example, if your in-laws always bring your kids candy even though they know it is prohibited in your home, tell them you will discard it if they bring it.  If you do not wish to discuss politics or certain religious views because it always leads to opposing views and heightened conflict, tell them before they come. Although it is important to set healthy boundaries, they do not always work with difficult people, so try to be flexible and minimize expectations whenever you can.
  • Avoid conflict – When you start to feel a little tension and stress, change the conversation or change your location. Go to another room or go outside in the garden where you feel more relaxed. Do some breathing exercises and give yourself permission to feel your feelings for a little while. Then make a choice to go back calmer and not attached to a particular emotion. If the family member is still insisting on communicating with you, then you will have more strength to respond instead of reacting.  If you can, try to go back and redirect your attention to something else.
  • Do something differentDo the opposite of what you feel or what you usually do. For example, instead of correcting them or getting defensive like you usually would, give them a hug, show love, compassion, patience, and understanding. Try to focus on one positive aspect about them and offer a compliment. If you do this, you will begin to see the family dynamics shift a little.
  • Distract yourself – What you focus on gets bigger! So be aware of what you are focusing on and how it makes you feel. If you begin to feel negative feelings, try to redirect your attention and interact with family members that make you happier and more peaceful. You can distract yourself by changing the perspective of the purpose the family member is there. For example, if you have kids and it is a grandparent, try to build their relationship more and try to notice cherished moments that are usually embedded in a grandparent-grandchild relationship. 
  • Forgive them Maybe you have been avoiding this family member for a long time, and the holidays have forced you to come together.  If you feel ready, this could be a good time to have a conversation and reach closure. Be honest about your feelings and if you can, forgive them for anything they have done in the past to disappoint and hurt you. Forgiving them will set you free, lead you to a path towards healing, and allow you to start the New Year on a clean slate with new family dynamics.


If you are struggling this holiday season and you want to heal your family relationships, family counseling can help you. Please do not hesitate to call me at 561-203-9280 or send an email here

To learn more about Dr. Yiolanta, check out her bio page here or read about her at Agape Connections Therapy