Fear of family festivities? Change the conversation.

It’s perfectly acceptable to approach the holiday season with dread. A big part of this is due to memories of past lunches and dinners where things didn’t always go well. But there’s more to it. By the time the holiday break comes around, many of us are exhausted from work so the pressure of being with family just stresses us out even more. As crazy as being around family can be, some of us would be very lonely without them.

Be proactive and plan a conversation

We plan food, we plan presents so why leave the conversation to chance? Ok, you can’t control the odd bullet flying around but you can create a positive theme that everyone can bring to the table. Why you? Well somebody has to do it and it can help things move along smoothly. December is often a time for reflection and the human brain tends to think of the negative first. Why not make yours a theme of gratitude? Focusing on good things can lift the mood. Let everyone know beforehand that you’d like each person to share what they’re particularly grateful for in the past year. Or even what they’re looking forward to in the coming year.

They can talk about it; they can draw or photograph it or if it’s a new family member they can bring them. It’s easy to forget the things that have made a difference so you might need to prompt them. It’s also a time of year where memories of loved ones who’ve passed tend to surface. If that’s the case, try to encourage celebratory memories and stories about that person.

Ways to counter the tension

  • One way to counter the tendency of families and relatives to create tension is to invite friends. Not everyone has somewhere to go so why not invite people who are on their own to join you and change the dynamic.
  • You can’t control anyone’s behaviour, but you can make suggestions like ‘Let’s go for a walk’ if someone is being argumentative and upsetting others.
  • That old standby, the board game, may seem out of date in this digital age but it can work wonders with bored or irritable guests. You don’t want anything too competitive like Monopoly, the best ones are the old-fashioned kids’ ones like Kerplunk. Simply putting them out there can change the mood.