Five Things to Remember When Dealing with Toxic Family Members This Holiday Season
Behavioral Health
November 03, 2022
Five Things to Remember When Dealing with Toxic Family Members This Holiday Season
Young couple looking sad with holiday decorations

Whether you’re the kind that counts down the days until the family gathering at grandma’s house or you make excuses then book the first flight out of town, the holidays can be stressful.

The holiday season can often be a time of joy, but it can also be a time of obligation for many. All that travel and togetherness with family is sure to increase levels of stress, not to mention the anxiety some people feel knowing they’ll be spending the holidays around what they consider “toxic” or emotionally immature relatives.

We connected with Becky Hardy, PhD., a licensed professional counselor on the staff at Texas Health Springwood Behavioral Health, to get her best tips on remaining sane during the holiday season:

  1. Easy does it. Throw perfectionism out the window.
  2. Prioritize by evaluating your most-loved holiday traditions and planning ahead to determine how you will include them in celebrations this year.
  3. Be flexible. The holiday season comes around every year and spontaneity can be fun. Rigid rules are usually not your friend!
  4. Don’t put yourself in the position of trying to please everyone and be careful of overpromising.
  5. Slow things down and be mindful of the meaning behind the season. Make a gratitude list each day.

Getting Space, Prioritizing Self-Care

According to new research, it takes less than four hours before Americans need a break from their extended family during the holidays, even though 95 percent of respondents believe it’s important to spend the holidays with family.

A survey of 2,000 Americans published in 2021 who stated they were traveling to visit family for the holidays found respondents can spend an average of three hours and 54 minutes with their family before needing a moment to themselves.

Three-quarters reported that they will hit a point where they need time away from the crowd, with 25% admitting they have hidden in a relative’s house to take a moment alone, while 37% have gone so far as to make an excuse and leave the house altogether.

Being in tight quarters with various personalities and opinions can pose an interesting environment for many. Additionally, it can be tempting to put too much focus on the few (or several) relatives who always seem to drive you crazy, but Hardy says it’s important to practice self-care before and during the holidays to keep your sanity.

“Keep the focus on good self-care basics and a positive attitude,” she says. “Get enough rest and eat well. Take a walk. Exercise. Listen to your favorite holiday music. Call a friend and laugh. Organize reasonably and expect the unexpected.

“Remember that a good way to interact with family is to let everyone feel valued, included and important,” she adds. “Who likes to cook? Who bakes well? Who likes to clean up or play games with the kids? Thinking about people’s strengths will help you get into the mindset of seeing the best in your family and enlist those strengths instead of focusing on the annoying quirks or feeling the pressure do everything yourself.”

If all else fails and you just don’t have the mental or emotional capacity to deal with toxic relatives this year, Hardy recommends shaking things up.

“It’s perfectly acceptable to make a new decision for this year, if necessary,” she says. “Some people opt to go on a trip, volunteer at a shelter, spend the holiday with friends or work a holiday shift. The choices are endless and there are times when you just need to do things in a new way. Remember, this too shall pass.”

In fact, 30% of respondents in that previously mentioned survey stated that the holiday season may be more enjoyable if the entire family wasn’t all under the same roof. The same percentage added that everyone may get along better if they had opportunities to get some space.

So if it’s a must that everyone be together, maybe your holiday gathering could use some more breakaway spaces or transitional spaces where people can flow to when things get to be too much. 

The holidays can be a difficult time for some. If you or someone you know is struggling this holiday season, visit Texas Health Behavioral Health or call the help line at 682-549-7934, which is available 24/7.

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