My guide to dealing with emotional conflict during the holidays


If you are prone to anxiety or depression, or you experienced a trauma this year that you are working through, you may notice a change in mood during the holiday season. With the increase of demands that the holidays put on us, it is easy to get weighed down. Studies have shown that people with depression find the holidays can make their conditions worse (source).
While it can be difficult to manage emotions, it’s healthier to address them at the cause of your stressors. To help you emotionally survive the holiday season, I created this guide to prepare you for managing the conflict that might head your way.

Deal with conflict

When the holiday parties arrive, you may be forced to sit at the dinner table with family members or friends that you have experienced conflict with, or that maybe trigger sensitive spots for you. It can be hard to enjoy your holiday time if you have negativity from the past resurfacing. Preparing yourself emotionally if you know someone you don’t get along with will be attending the same holiday events is crucial to maintain your sanity.
If you’re open to reconciling the relationship, talk to the individual alone ahead of the party date to smooth over any conflicts. If the situation is too unhealthy to be repaired, remember that holding on to anger and negativity is like drinking poison while expecting the other person to  get sick.
Work toward forgiveness and letting go, so that even if the relationship can’t be salvaged, it won’t continue creating toxic stress and negativity in your life. One of the best ways I know how is to take ourselves out of our own story and step into the thoughts, feelings and beliefs of the person who hurt us. Not so we can make right what they did, but so we can begin to understand the painful event from their point of view.
Keep your own happiness in mind and try your best to enjoy the event. Keep in mind, if the situation becomes too tense, you are always allowed to excuse yourself and leave.

Make a plan if there is a disagreement

At family get together, there might be talk of politics, family drama or more that could spark a flame and create a debate. If there is a disagreement, prepare for it ahead of time. Consider if the topic is even worth talking about or fighting over. If it isn’t, then simply don’t engage! Change the subject and diffuse any tension. Make sure you are listening to what the other is saying and work together as a team to resolve any issues.
Your goal should not be to win and argument, but instead to find common ground and resolve it. Don’t let yourself get too heated, or allow your emotions to get the best of you. You can always go for a walk to clear your head, or try a joke to lighten the mood. If you know that your family and friends often fight when all together, think about what you will do when the conflict arises.

Reach out if you’re lonely

We aren’t all lucky to spend the holiday season with family members or loved ones. It can get lonely when you see families doing Christmas activities if you are away from home this season. It is normal to feel this way! Reach out to friends, even if they live far away. Reconnect with family members. With FaceTime and cellphones, don’t hesitate to call or video chat people who make you happy and love you.

Don’t overindulge

As the holidays arrive, people will be baking lots of cookies and hosting dinner parties. While at these events, don’t overindulge in sweets or alcohol. If you stray too far off your healthy eating plan, you may feel guilty and stressed from not sticking to your routine. You can enjoy the baked goods in moderation, and don’t feel upset with treating yourself to some baked goods every once in a while. One cookie won’t make you gain weight or ruin your diet!
Also, to avoid drama, cut back on alcohol. Alcohol can impair your logic and reasoning. If you know there might be family drama, it may be better to not drink so you can think clearly. Plus, it is a lot more difficult to control your emotions while under the influence. Again, moderation is key!

Make new traditions

If you have recently lost someone special in your life, the holiday’s can be a particularly hard time. Holiday traditions you once shared may bring up painful memories. If you feel that participating in those holiday traditions will be a cathartic experience for you, create the time and space for you to participate in them with room for whatever emotions might arise. Allowing yourself to experience those emotions without suppressing them can be extremely therapeutic.
To celebrate in a positive way, create new annual festive traditions with the family and friends you care about. It can help you embrace the holidays in a different way, and welcome the new traditions in for years to come.

Don’t feel guilty if you’re not feeling the joy

I want you to remember, it is alright to feel down sometimes! Don’t let yourself feel guilty if you are not embracing the holiday spirit. Don’t expect yourself to feel the joy if your mind and heart aren’t agreeing with. Just remember, emotions change and feelings of sadness are not forever. Try your best to be grateful for your loved ones, and do what is best for you and your mental health.