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Experts discuss how to handle stressful family holiday situations

AP Poll Holiday Spirit
Posted at 3:23 PM, Dec 20, 2022

The holidays can be stressful, from unwarranted questions at family dinner to toxic family dynamics.

A survey from the American Psychiatric Association in 2021 found that in general during the holidays, 41 percent of people saw an increase in stress in their life. Forty-nine percent said stress levels stay the same. Seven percent said their stress level decreases around the holidays.

“The external demands in general go up, which create more stress. But then I think the holidays are a unique time, too, that evoke certain emotions for us that can add to the psychological stress,” said Dr. William Orme, a clinical psychologist at Houston Methodist Hospital.

Experts have tips on how to mitigate stress. “Consider limiting the number of engagements,” he said.

He explained that stress flourishes when external demands outweigh the resources you have to bring to handle those demands.

However sometimes gatherings, like family dinners for example, are unavoidable.

“Usually people are very fatigued by the time they get to a holiday dinner. A lot of times there’s alcohol involved, a lot of times it's late at night, so this is sort of a recipe for it to go poorly,” said Dr. Orme.

Managing expectations can help.

“I think it’s helpful to remember why it is we are coming to the holiday and what our goals are for the holiday. Is our goal to really sort of change peoples minds on political positions? Or is it to connect to our family members despite our differences?” said Dr. Orme.

He said it’s best to have a planned response when questions arise. “Almost to have a planned way of responding to that can be really calming for people,” he said. “Something that’s very disarming but truthful.”

For stress management this time of year, the Mayo Clinic recommends planning ahead, learning to say no when needed, acknowledging your feelings, and being realistic.