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15 Tips on How to Handle Family During the Holidays

Updated: Dec 7, 2021

”It’s the most wonderful time of the yearrrr....."

Ahh family time, snuggling by a cozy fire with loved ones, sipping hot coco while decorating the tree…welp…that’s all nice in theory but, let’s face it! Holidays can be *super* stressful! Seeing family we haven’t seen all year, being around uncomfortable conversations, social anxiety, high expectations, financial burden…..not to mention a global pandemic!


Just kidding! However, I wanted to write this blog, not to be a grinch, but to prepare ourselves for, what can be, an intense and/or stressful time of year. Hopefully this blog will provide you with some helpful tips to make you feel more prepared and more in control of your holiday season.

15 Tips to Handle Family During the Holiday Season:

Communicate with your partner.

Discuss with your partner before you leave for the party. Let them know your triggers, and the exit plan….be on the same page. After all, y’all are supposed to be partners in crime right?!

Know your limits.

How long can you take a family function? 3 hours max? ….then try to arrive in a window where you spend that much time and nothing over. Be mindful of your alcohol intake.

Stick to safe topics.

Ideally, we want to keep conversations light when dealing with toxic family members. Realistically, I know this isn't always the case. If we feel uncomfortable in a conversation, we can politely excuse ourselves, set boundaries, or attempt to change the topic. Do what is best for you in that moment. Examples of unsafe topics include: goals, politics, food, love, feelings. Examples of safe topics include: weather, sports, movies.

Take breaks.

Go to the bathroom and take a few deep breaths. Go sit in your car and take a moment to yourself. Offer to run an errand.

Recognize what your body is telling you.

Are you getting hot and flushed? Go outside, take a breather. Are you restless and pacing Practice taking a few slow deep breaths. Is your neck tense and stiff? Roll your head and shoulders around in a circle a few times.

Know your triggers.

Know who and what triggers you. Even foods and smells can be triggers. Once we know our triggers, we can either try and avoid them, mentally prepare for them, and limit our time around these triggers. Plan to go to the bathroom after you encounter a trigger and give yourself a moment to take a few deep breaths and ground yourself back.

Have realistic expectations.

The person that you think might finally understand you or apologize to you or not make racist/homophobic comments....nope...those expectations are way too high. Bring them down. Having high expectations leaves room for lots of disappointment.

Have an exit plan.

If possible, take your own car so you can leave when you are ready. Come up with a code word, with whoever you rode with, to indicate when you're ready to go.

Bring back-up.

If you don’t have a spouse, bring a friend for back up. Maybe you can even return the favor to your friend for one of their family gatherings.

Spot the ‘safe’ family members.

Hang out with those family members the majority of the party. If you get cornered with that triggering family member, scan the room and try to find the safe family member.


Set verbal and/or physical boundaries with anyone you feel. A few examples of holiday boundaries may sound like:

  • "Thank you so much for the invite, but I will not be able to make it. I am booked up this holiday season."

  • "I understand gift exchange is a tradition, however, I will not be participating this year, and I request not to receive any as well."

  • "Mom, I understand you are upset, but I cannot continue to listen to you vent about dad."

  • "I appreciate the invite, however, I am still practicing social distancing and do not feel comfortable being around bigger crowds with some unvaccinated people."

  • "Please stop offering me alcoholic drinks, you know I am in recovery."

(for more guidance on boundaries, click here.)

Utilize your coping skills.

Breathing and grounding techniques can help in stressful situations.

Remind yourself you ARE safe!

Being around family members that you’ve been abused by can re-traumatize you. Also remember, you're allowed to remove yourself when you feel unsafe; or even to take a break once you feel more comfortable.

It's okay to cancel.

This can be a hard one. We feel like we 'have to' go to this or that party or family gathering. It's okay to also spend the holiday alone. Do what you feel is best for you. It is your holiday, just as much, as it is anyone else's.


Lastly, make sure you have somewhere or someone to process your emotions, thoughts, and feelings with. If you don't....journaling could also help. (tips for journaling, click here.)

If you'd like to make an appointment for therapy, click here.

I hope this blog provided you with some guidance to approach the holidays with a more confident attitude and feel a little more safe. Remember, the holidays are a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself. Be kind to yourself. It is your holiday too!

Check out my other blog that is related to the holidays and how to take care of ourselves overall. Click here.

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