Mental Health and Holidays with the Family

By Jennifer Garcia

You’re in the family room, everyone is wearing their best thanksgiving outfits, fall décor embraces your physical surroundings, the smell of pumpkin spice candles fills the air— and then there it is. The BLANK that makes your muscles tense, your heart drop, palms sweaty. It’s not a good feeling because it brings you back to the reason why you moved across the country in the first place, or why you haven’t called as much, or even why you’ve been getting some of the “Hey, it’s been a while,” statements. The holidays can be a huge challenge for some people. It can cause many negative feelings and even cause most to cancel any thanksgiving plans with family. Here I provide words of encouragement, some coping strategies, and even some statistics around how prevalent the challenge of family and the holidays really is.

Staying Positive
It’s easier said than done when you want to stay positive and mentally prepare for the holidays. Here are some words of encouragement that might get you going:

You’re stronger than you think.
We often function with the defeatist mentality as we’re thinking and focusing on how everything will go wrong. Have you gone through this before? Did you successfully make it through the holidays last time? If you answered yes, then you are resilient. You’ve been able to overcome this same challenge that once before caused you a great deal of negative emotions. It doesn’t make it easier to handle, I’m sure, but try finding comfort in knowing that you have the tools to navigate and get through it!

You’re not alone.
Believe it or not, many people are going through what you’re going through. Not everyone’s holidays are full of family, laughter, and happiness. Some are filled with arguing, fighting, hate, distrust, pain, fear, etc. That’s why it’s important to have resources available for support such as a friend, other family members, positive self-affirmations, and coping strategies to help you get through this.

Stand firm.
Standing firm doesn’t always mean you have to put up a shield, but it does mean to believe in yourself. Stand firm in knowing that you have the tools to navigate the holidays, knowing that you have resources, and knowing that no matter what old or new challenges arise during the
holidays, you are able to ground yourself (I’ll get to tips on how to do this next).

I want to define the act of “grounding.” Grounding yourself means to remain present in your current environment and focusing on yourself as you’re trying to self-regulate or manage through a challenging event/time. There are many ways to cope with a feeling, thought, and action. My favorite technique in grounding yourself is using the 5-4-3-2-1 technique (5-4-3-2-1 Technique Worksheet). This technique helps you use your 5 sense to focus on your physical surroundings and name 5 objects you see, 4 things you feel, 3 things you hear, 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you taste. It even goes deeper than that; as your taking this time to identify those things you see, feel, hear, smell and taste, you want to really focus on those small details we normally look past. For example, walk inside your bedroom and look at the corner that’s on the far left toward theground. What do you see? Patterns from paint layers? Perhaps dust bunnies? Or even the inner most corner where the two walls intersect with the ground. The point is to be able to control and regulate your symptoms by focusing on being present, in the moment, and as aware of yourself in your physical surrounding as possible.

Other quick tips to coping are walking away when needed, taking deep breaths (Deep Breathing Worksheet), practicing body awareness and mental exercises, which can all be found here.

According to a study published Sept. 2021 in which surveyed 2,000 participants and their experiences with family during the holidays, “three-quarters will hit a point where they need time away from the crowd,” “one in four of those surveyed have hidden in a relative’s house to take a moment alone” “37% have gone as far as to make an excuse and leave the house altogether,” and “two in five of those planning to stay with family admit that it can be a stressful experience” (Haaland, Marie, 2021). This study is one of many examples that provide evidence in that others feel that same or comparable feeling of some negative feeling about being with family for the holidays.

What Should You take Away from This?
Many if not all people experience some form of a challenge during the holidays when spending time with family. Here I provided some words of encouragement, coping strategies and tips, resources attached full of resources you can use, as well as some statistics regarding the
prevalence of this challenge. No one challenge is the same as the next, but I want to validate each of your experiences as you all navigate the holidays.

Therapy can act as a support for you, especially during challenging times like the holidays! Please don’t hesitate to take that step toward reaching out and allow me to support you! If interested in meeting with me, either book a free, 15-minute consultation with me, or book an
appointment! You’re stronger than you think. You’re not alone. Stand firm.