10 Tips To Help You Deal With Dysfunctional Family This Festive Season

The holiday season is finally upon us! Yes, 2020 has changed everything, so whether you’re getting together with the family in person or over a zoom call, we all may have moments through the good times when conflicts among relatives begin to surface, and we need tips on how to handle a bit of dysfunction.

It’s fun seeing your family during the festive season, catching up with everyone, eating, relaxing, going down memory lane, etc. However, you’re not alone when certain uncomfortable moments arise due to the different family dynamics that come into play. That’s when conflicts ignite, causing some ongoing major family drama and awkward moments to start up again.

As much as everyone would love to avoid these conflicts, big or small, we tend to mentally prepare ourselves for a family battle every time the holiday season comes around, which instantly raises our anxiety levels from the get-go.

So the best way to approach the situation is with these ten tips to help you deal with any dysfunctional family situation. Thesy will help diffuse the situation, and keep your peace of mind so that you can enjoy the holiday season with your family.

1. Mindset Check

First things first, let’s adjust that mindset. Our anxiety is probably through the roof as we try to brace ourselves for the seasonal family get-together’s, again either in person or with a lot of safety protocols – thank you, Covid, so we tend to have a lot of “conversations” in our mind.

We tend to give in to our anxiety and overthink what might be said, by who and how we would reply. All this overthinking leads us to come across as very defensive and armed from the get-go,. It also has us already irritated, and it could just lead to a conflict we’re desperately trying to avoid.

“Before get-togethers with family members, think about the qualities you like about them, rather than focusing on the negative.”

Dr. Diep Ho, MD

One way to help decrease your anxiety and adjust that mindset is to de-stress yourself before meeting up with your family. When you do things that you enjoy, it calms you down. You won’t be so anxious around your family; for example, meditating or even watching your favorite holiday movie,. This will lower your anxiety levels, and your mindset would be more positive when you meet your family.

2. Manage Your Expectations

Throughout the year, we sometimes forget the family drama and how everyone’s personalities can clash, especially if alcohol is involved. Closer to the holidays, we’re so excited to see everyone, relax, go down memory lane, and enjoy family traditions. It’s only closer to the date our thoughts do a 180, and we remember the drama.

“Minimize your contact with difficult relatives, and spend more time interacting with people you like.”

Dr. Thomas C. Lian, MD

The best way to keep your mind at bay is to manage your expectations. Knowing your relatives can be a blessing because you know what to expect. When you know what to expect, you can control how you handle the situation, and no one’s comments or behavior can shock or upset you. You can also focus on the relatives you get along with and have fun with.

3. Set some Boundaries With Some Off Limit Topics

I cannot stress this enough, but setting boundaries is crucial. During the holidays, family gatherings can lead to stress, depression, and anxiety because we tend to be more lenient with how our relatives treat us.

“Avoiding topics that tend to spark arguments helps defuse tense situations before they even start.”

Dr Diep Ho, MD

Setting lines that people do not cross and enforcing your boundaries can save you from struggling mentally during the holidays or even afterward. It’s best to keep in mind sensitive topics that you will not discuss, such as relationship status or politics. Avoiding these trigger topics will keep the conversation conflict-free.

4. Come Up With Responses Beforehand

There are specific questions we just cannot ignore, such as “Why are you still single?”, “When are you getting married?” “When are you going to give your child a sibling? “When are you going to have a baby?” “Have you gained weight?”, need I go on.

Nosy relatives will always have a ton of questions or comments on sensitive topics that just cannot be avoided, nor do we have any control over. However, we can control how we respond to them.

. “If a family member insists on discussing it, try to change the subject tactfully.”

Dr. Thomas C. Lian, MD

There’s something about knowing what to expect that aids in your emotional wellbeing, because you won’t be caught off guard. Once you know what to expect, you can mentally have smart responses in mind for those pesky questions that you cannot avoid. You can easily walk away afterward or swiftly change the topic without feeling down or irritated.

5. Time To Accept

We don’t always get to choose our family, but knowing what to expect from everyone. You can go into family gatherings with no expectation of change, and most importantly with acceptance. Once you know what to expect from your family and accept who you are as a person and who your relatives are, the whole holiday get-together will go much smoother.

We all aspire to have a pleasant family experience. Still, it’s important to not fall for the hope that “this year will be different,” especially when it comes to certain relatives and their less than ideal known behavior. Letting go and accepting the type of person they are will help protect you from further disappointment and you can enjoy your time together.

It’s also important to be confident and accept who you are, and this will help you not get upset at comments or questions from individual family members. Sometimes our behavior can regress when we’re around family. We can easily fall back into old behavioral patterns. This can be very emotionally harmful, causing anxiety, self-doubt, and a dip in our mood.  

6. Breath in Breath Out

Do you know the five-second rule? No, I’m not referring to the one when you drop the food on the floor, but the breathing exercises. Deep breaths are proven to instantly calm a person down, especially during a high stressful level situation that they cannot walk away from.

“Don’t waste your energy trying to change others and accept that you can only control your actions and thoughts.”

Dr Diep Ho, MD

It sounds simple, but breathing in and out deeply, five times can help ease your anxiety, lower your stress level, and clear your mind. In just a few breaths, that certain comment from Aunt Carol about your relationship status and why she thinks’ you’re single won’t bug you anymore.

Why let someone else’s comment ruin your good time and your happiness. I know it’s easier said than done; it does take practice, but something important to remember is not everything needs a response.

7. Don’t Isolate

Family gatherings can sometimes make you feel very alone and judged. You may be tempted to isolate yourself, so you don’t have to deal with the ‘judgment’ from your family. However, pushing yourself away, hiding in your room, or suspiciously taking the dog on ‘another walk’ just to get away from the relatives is not fair to you.

Wait, hear me out, you deserve to enjoy your holiday with your family too. Don’t let your Uncle Earl’s political debates spoil your mood. Don’t let anyone make you not make the most of the traditions, laughter, and love that holidays with the family also entails.

This is the time to make the most with your family, build on those memories, catch up with everyone, and just be you. The holidays can have us all feeling a bit lonely, but what better time to make the most of these precious, irreplaceable moments with our family.

8. Holidate Buffer


Call it a buffer or be fancy and call it a Holidate, but Netflix’s latest movie release got me, and I’m sure many others thinking. That having someone accompany us to family gatherings during the holiday season would be a lifesaver.

They would be on our side, could take away a lot of the anxious, on guard feelings we may be having, and it would be more fun. You both could agree upon a signal of some sort, which you can use if you feel backed into a corner by a family member and need help to get away. You can blow a sigh of relief as they swoop in to rescue you.

Now, this doesn’t have to be an actual date. You can bring along a friend who may not be able to spend the holidays with their family. Now you have a buffer that will make all the festivities a tad bit more stress-free and fun.

9. Escape Plan For Some Alone Time

Who doesn’t like some alone time? Even though you should not isolate yourself all the time while you’re with the family during the holidays, it is perfectly normal and healthy to have some alone time.

Chaos or no chaos, all those dynamics under one roof can sometimes feel very overwhelming, and if you have anxiety, it can heighten those feelings. The best way to keep your mind at peace is to take some time away just to ‘recharge.’

Running an errand, walking the dog, or taking the kids outside to play in the snow, can help you get away for a bit. You’ll have more fun, clear your head, and if there is any family drama brewing, you’ll be far from it.

10. Gratitude

Finally, especially with 2020 and all the tests we’ve been going through, we need to learn the lessons this year has taught us; what matters in life and what we have to show gratitude for – our loved ones. Having a mental list of everything we’re thankful for can make it easy to handle tough family moments.

Every family has drama; never think you’re alone, and never let social media make you believe otherwise. But with the drama comes terrific moments filled with irreplaceable love and laughter from our loved ones. Showing gratitude and enjoying all those moments, big or small, will help us appreciate the holidays with each other. 

It’s safe this year, with all the social distancing from our loved ones has been challenging. So when we do get to be with our family, even if it’s under strict safety regulations, regardless of the drama, we will just be so happy to make the most of the time we have with each other.

Written By:
Zainab Dokrat

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