It is not an uncommon concern to try to find ways to avoid discussing politics or religion and other annoying topics during the holiday season when visiting with friends and relatives.
Many people believe that, despite their efforts, they will be faced with difficult topics that will contribute to their anxiety and depressed mood during holiday celebrations. There are definite steps you can take when facing difficult topics, challenging friends and/or relatives this holiday season.
One habit that occurs with many people during the holidays is to ruminate about invasive questions and topics that they may get from family and friends. Some of these concerning questions may include:
- When are you going to get engaged, married or have a baby?
- Did you receive a holiday bonus or promotion?
- Did your kids get into a top college?
- Why are you wearing multiple pierced earrings?
- Why are you a vegetarian or following a gluten-free diet?
- When are you going to lose weight and start a diet?
Ruminating or anticipating possible occurrences increases anxiety and can contribute to depressed mood before attending an event. Unfortunately, you can’t stop thoughts like turning off a light switch, but there are strategies to use prior to the dreaded event. Some techniques include:
- Challenging your thoughts. For example, you may think, “My aunt will ask when I am getting married.” An alternative thought may be: “She may be too involved talking to all of the relatives.”
- Tell yourself you will get through this. Some things to tell yourself include, “What is the worst thing that could happen?” or “I might be upset, but I will survive.”
- When thinking about an unpleasant question, prepare answers so you’re not caught off guard. Possible concern: “My aunt will ask if I am having a baby.” Prepare an answer: “I am thinking about it,” or “not this year.”
- Distractions. When unpleasant thoughts appear, it is always helpful to distract yourself by watching a movie, talking to a friend or exercising.
- Laughter. It is always helpful to laugh, watch a comedy or spend time with non-judgmental people.
- Pets. Spending time with your pet and/or a friend’s pet can help you relax and distract yourself from the fear.
Now that you have prepared for the holiday, think about what you will do when you arrive at the gathering. Many people become overwhelmed by being in a crowd with relatives or friends that you haven’t seen since last year. Other people may fear the dreaded question, “Do you know my name?” or worry about how to survive the event. There are ways to make it through the gathering and even enjoy your time.
Some tactics include:
- Have realistic expectations. You have prepared for the holiday, and you know that there may be questions or discussions that are challenging. Also realize that holiday gatherings are not like those portrayed on television or in movies.
- Try to have family members or friends talk about their lives. This will be a helpful tactic when trying to avoid difficult discussion.
- Avoid upsetting topics. Try not to ask questions about politics, religion or any topic that you would like to avoid.
- Spend time with pets and small children.
- Discuss neutral topics including sports, weather, famous people, hobbies, etc.
- Use imagery. Daydreaming or thinking about a place where you would like to be — for example, a beach — can distract you from any unpleasantness.
- Don’t be complicated. Stick to the facts.
You are not alone in your concerns. According to a Reuters poll, one in three adults is anxious during the holiday season. Remember that holidays come and go. You will survive, and often your fears are not realized. Try to enjoy.
Have a happy and healthy holiday and New Year.
Marcy Shoemaker, Psy.D, is a staff psychologist at Abramson Center.