The holiday season is certainly a time for festive activities and family togetherness, but time with family can sometimes lead to difficult or stressful conversations. Don’t let difficult interactions or the possibility of them ruin the holiday. Instead, try to plan ahead and create strategies for avoiding or diffusing stressful topics.
No one knows your family better than you. You know which topics are best to avoid and you can anticipate where the stress points will be during your next gathering. Instead of waiting for them to come up, use some of the following strategies to avoid confrontation:
- Anticipate who will be there – Think about which family member is sensitive to certain topics and plan to talk about something else.
- Prepare yourself – Be mindful of which topics you find upsetting or that you know will upset your family and try to avoid them.
- Share pleasant stories or memories – What are topics that are positive that everyone can participate in, like stories or memories?
- Avoid too much alcohol – Overconsumption of alcohol can lead to a person saying something they’ll regret. Instead, know your limits and moderate your consumption.
- Have a plan to change the subject – Come up with some neutral topics that you can switch the conversation to when it starts to get heated.
- Excuse yourself – If you can’t change the subject, excuse yourself from the conversation politely and walk away.
- Have a buddy – Plan for someone to have your back and help you navigate family interactions. It can be a significant other, family member or friend who helps steer conversation away from sensitive topics.
Even with these strategies, arguments may come up between other family members. If you are close to one of the parties involved or are the host, try to find an excuse to separate them or get one to step away. This could be something as subtle as asking them for help in the kitchen or inviting them to see something in another room. If you don’t know them or aren’t the host, it may be better to let someone else intervene.
Our area is fortunate, as Cone Health has an exceptional network of behavioral health care providers dedicated to treating individuals in the community suffering from stress, anxiety and other behavioral health conditions.
David Gutterman, PhD, is a clinical psychologist at LeBauer Behavioral Medicine and a member of Cone Health Medical Group. He completed undergraduate studies at Tulane University and earned a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of Houston. Gutterman earned his Doctor of Philosophy in clinical psychology from Northwestern University.