Don’t let a holiday family visit become a holiday disaster

Published 7:49 am Saturday, December 23, 2017

During the holiday season, advertisers and the media are constantly portraying families as all having these perfectly wonderful, caring and loving relationships. Unfortunately, for most of us, our families are probably less than perfect.

When it comes to holiday gatherings with our families, there’s always the chance it’s going to be less than perfect times. It’s not uncommon to feel stress and anxious about an upcoming family visit. But if you take the time to understand the sources of the stress that can come with a family get-together, it often can help at least minimize those feelings.

A common problem is that you’ve become a different person than the image of you that parents, siblings and other family members still carry with them. For them you may still be that little kid or immature teen, and they can’t see how you’ve developed and matured. It’s a source of annoyance when others can’t recognize the changes that have made you who you are today.

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Another source of anxiety for many is not having met family expectations. You may have faced a recent job loss, financial problems or a relationship that has ended badly. It can feel awkward and difficult to be back with family knowing you’re not the success you think your family expected of you.

Family visits also bring with them family history. There may be memories of stressful times, past disagreements, awkward relationships or an unhappy childhood. It’s not uncommon for family arguments or misunderstandings to rekindle once again.

One starting point in minimizing such issues is simply recognizing that the stress you’re feeling is a very normal reaction. When you try to understand why an upcoming family gathering is feeling stressful, you can begin to find ways to minimize such feelings. This might mean avoiding certain situations or people, or simply accepting that you won’t have a wonderful time with everyone.

Seek out people to see and things to do that will make your visit more enjoyable. Try to avoid the trouble spots. When cornered in an awkward situation use the cell phone excuse (“Oops, I forgot I have to call Sharon by 4…”) to walk away from potential problems.

And if you find that the whole trip is really going to be significantly traumatic, consider shortening, or even avoiding the visit completely. Don’t let old problems ruin your current holiday enjoyment.

Counseling Corner is provided by the American Counseling Association. Comments and questions to or visit the ACA website at