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How to bring people together for the holidays

With the opportunity to see people over the holidays, you may be feeling a little nervous, overwhelmed, or unsure of how things may play out…

Couple serving roast potatoes in the kitchen

A lot happened this year, and with the holiday season approaching, there’s a chance that bottled-up emotions may start to make their way out. You may even be anticipating some challenging discussions with your nearest and dearest.

Challenging external situations and stress, alongside festive occasions and celebrations, can often escalate existing family tensions. Historically, we have all been familiar with uncomfortable conversations around politics, social issues, values, and lifestyle choices.

Below you can find a few of our top tips for getting through the holiday season, whatever it might throw at you and your family.

Be ready for change

The world and restrictions change frequently at the moment and even the best-laid plans can be victim to unforeseen circumstances and change. Brace yourself for this, keep an open mind, and be aware that excitement and expectation, whilst lovely feelings to enjoy, can also lead to disappointment.

Having a plan B or being realistic with yourself can help to lessen the blow if things do change. The holiday season has very static traditions and social norms. If you find yourself unable to celebrate how you hoped, are there other things you can plan to ensure this remains a special time for you?

Cut everyone a little more slack this year – especially yourself!

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that gathering with the people you love is a blessing not to be overlooked. We have all lived through a collective trauma, we’ve all been impacted in some way, and it’s likely that the strain of the current circumstances may occasionally bubble over onto the people we love.

Try to find as much grace as possible for yourself and the people you care about as we figure things out together.

Forget about winning the argument, and instead, seek to understand

When a relative or friend fundamentally disagrees with you or acts in opposition to a core value you have, it may feel like a personal affront – but that doesn’t mean that it is.

No matter what you and others may be divided on, it’s most likely that you’re not going to convince them to change their minds over one Christmas dinner. However, you can still engage in the conversation, as long as you aren’t coming from a place of judgment. A little more listening to understand and a little less trying to convince will go a long way.

Remind yourself that we are all complex and multifaceted beings, with widely varying personal values and beliefs, and trying to win an argument won’t advance any meaningful discussion. Sometimes it is most helpful to acknowledge your opposing viewpoints (respectfully) and accept that you likely won’t change each other’s minds.

Focus on what brings you together

If family tensions do arise, it may be useful to focus on what factors bring you together instead of what divides you.

If you have difficult topics that you know cause friction in your family perhaps you could agree to not bring these up for discussion at certain times when you are together. Temporarily banning talk of politics or views on vaccines could be a helpful way to connect over things that bring you together. Brainstorm alternative topics or conversation starters in advance to ensure that conflict is kept to a minimum.

If you find that a family member is behaving in a way that’s not conducive to a peaceful holiday, remind yourself that that is their decision. Take comfort in knowing that you are not in control of other people’s choices – but you are in control of your own.

Be honest about your current situation and your needs

The still-present pandemic and its related health risks will be impacting us all in different ways. You’ll have needs, and your friends and family will have them too, and by being transparent and open, you are inviting others to do the same, which means you can move forward with less ambiguity and chances of awkward interactions.

Whatever your situation may be, always be honest about things such as your vaccination status and comfort level around masks and no masks. Try and assess everyone’s comfort levels individually if possible. For example, there’s a chance that not everyone will be as willing to go in for a big bear hug as you may be!

But there’s no need to feel awkward, simply ask, are we hugging today? And if it’s a no, it’s not personal. Let them know you are still so excited to be spending the day with them.

Protect your own mental wellbeing

While you can’t change those around you, you can focus on strategies that help you to set boundaries.

In some cases, setting boundaries with relatives may be new territory, but it can be well worth the initial awkwardness. Maybe there is an option to contact loved ones in advance to discuss your boundaries and minimize the risks of harm.

While the above tips can help to keep the peace in a lot of situations if seeing your family causes you great amounts of stress each year, or if you have family members that are toxic and harmful to your mental health, it’s okay to say no.

There is a lot of pressure to see family during the holidays, but family can mean different things to different people. If your biological family shows behaviors that are destructive to your mental health, you have no obligation to spend time with them.

Instead, you might want to spend the holidays with different people in your life who choose people that light you up and make you feel good. You might also spend some of the holidays alone and that is okay too. There is no one way of doing things and every way of doing things can recharge you and give you what you need this holiday season.


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