Five Strategies to Manage Stress at Family Gatherings This Holiday Season

November 23, 2021

The mayor’s Christmas tree has arrived at Crown Center, marking the start of the holiday season here in Kansas City. There will be time for shopping and gift-giving, decorating and shows. Many of us will also take time to visit family. Though family gatherings during the holiday season can be fun, joyful and festive, they can also be a source of stress. Any source of holiday stress, such as finances, health or the change in weather, can be difficult. However, depression or anxiety caused by family is uniquely challenging because of our relationships and emotions. Here are five strategies for coping with the stress that sometimes comes along with family holiday gatherings.

1. Create Plan of Action

Family gatherings are a time for reconnection, but uncomfortable surroundings, disagreeable family members and unfamiliar routines can make getting together stressful. Plan ahead for more enjoyable visits. You can shorten the length of your visits. You can also choose to limit or avoid specific people and decide how you will spend your time. Consider planning things to do, like puzzles, ice skating or board games. It’s difficult to stress when engrossed in an activity that requires concentration, physical activity or laughter.

2. Consider the Children

Family visits and holiday functions are exciting for children but can be stressful too. Help children be their best by prioritizing quality sleep, nutritious food and ample physical activity. This will set them up to better cope with the stress caused by the packed schedules and disrupted routines that are part of the holiday season. When children are stressed, it manifests as behavior problems and mood swings. They may cry, complain or whine more often, have changes in sleep patterns, or have difficulty following directions. Plus, stressed children can be a source of stress for their grown-ups, too! Be selective when deciding when to include children in the festivities — leaving them home with a family member or babysitter might mean less stress for both of you.

3. Have Respectful Conversations

Different viewpoints can be a source of stress when family members come together. Decide beforehand what you are comfortable discussing. Agreeing to avoid taboo subjects like politics and religion may be the simplest solution to keep the peace. Only discuss sensitive issues if everyone can do so respectfully. To have respectful conversations, be kind, stay calm and actively listen for areas of common ground. If emotions begin to run high, suggest setting the conversation aside until a later, more appropriate time to talk. Remember, you can always remove yourself from the conversation, room or event, so pay attention to when you feel uncomfortable, awkward, unsafe, embarrassed or trapped.

4. Practice Acceptance

Planning and being respectful won’t change difficult people or their personalities. Accept family members as they are by adjusting your expectations for them. Think about what you enjoy about the person and the good times you’ve had with them. This can help you be patient when they say and do things that irritate you. Remember, we all do things that annoy other people; don’t take it personally.

5. Remember Self-Care

Lack of sleep, poor nutrition and not enough exercise all can take a toll on our mental health and make it harder to cope with stress. Unhealthy coping mechanisms such as overeating and excess drinking may seem to help, but the effect is temporary and stress can get worse. To resist overeating, try eating a protein-containing snack before the event so excess hunger won’t affect your food choices. Drinking a glass of water in between alcoholic beverages will allow you to enjoy your beverage instead of using it to quench your thirst. If you do overindulge, forgive yourself, be kind to your body and prioritize self-care.  Though it can be harder to achieve during the holidays, especially if you are away from home, get plenty of sleep, focus on eating nutrient-dense foods and move your body. Staying in the moment, or practicing mindfulness, can also help reduce stress and doesn’t require any special equipment or space. You can also try meditating, stretching exercises and yoga.

When to Seek Professional Help

Family time should be enjoyable. Strategies to manage stress can help but aren’t a cure for anxiety or depression. If you or a family member needs additional support and could benefit from speaking with professional, Mindful by Blue KC can help. Visit or call 1-833-302-MIND (6463) to speak with a Mindful Advocate who will match you with the appropriate expert based on individual needs.