Thanksgiving + Family Conflict

5 Ways to Make Holidays Less Stressful

by Chimere G. Holmes, LPC, Mental Health Editor

Let’s be honest. During the holiday season, a lot of families put the ‘fun’ in dysfunction. Adding in-laws to the mix can make kinship waters even murkier. A lot of conflict is created around issues of control, enmeshments, cultural differences, religious backgrounds, political affiliation, and communication styles.

Know this: Your primary responsibilities are to your spouse and family of creation and their emotional safety deserves your protection. As for your in-laws, well … You may have married into a family that was toxic long before you arrived on the scene.

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How can you survive Thanksgiving? Here are tips to deescalate the family drama.

  • Take turns celebrating with family. Is there too much drama on one side of the family – or both? Limit your exposure to them by seeing one family in November and the other in December, or celebrate with families on alternate years.
  • Prepare for conflict. Dreaming of a “White Christmas” can set you up for disappointment and depression. Accept the reality that, in some situations, friction is inevitable and stress is normal. Prepare yourself with a healthy response or strategy. Armed with those things, you can prevent issues from escalating into greater anxieties.
  • Protect your downtime. As we say in therapy, you cannot pour from an empty cup. Try to carve out time to maintain your peace of mind. Create moments of stillness and solitude, or whatever self-care you need. When December 31 arrives, you should feel invigorated, not depleted.
  • Limit social media and doom scrolling. Don’t compare your holiday plans or family dynamics with others. Those picture-perfect Instagram and Facebook posts don’t show the family blowups, burned turkey, and anxiety that so many people cope with during the holidays.
  • Just say ‘No!’ If spending time with family causes great amounts of stress and plummets your mood, it is perfectly okay to just say no. Keeping it simple with your partner and/or children can be a wonderful alternative to seeing people who make you depressed and stressed. Remember, your emotional wellness comes first. 

This Thanksgiving, let’s step back and take inventory of everything that we have. Let’s pause and give thanks for the gifts of health—physically and emotionally, safety, friendship, love, and purpose. When we change our perception and focus on what really matters, the feuds with family members become trivial.

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We can never change people, but we have the power to decide to whom and what we will expand our energy on. Good partners and great friends are after all, the families we choose. Be sure to celebrate and share your time with those who honor, appreciate, and lift you up. Put your energy toward being grateful and surrounding yourself with the right people. Happy Thanksgiving!    

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