5 Tips for Those Tough Holiday Conversations


Holiday dinner party


How can it be November already?! I swear it was just February, and yet here we are—it has been a wild ride this year for sure. As we head into the holiday season, another one that might not quite look like a ‘normal’ one, you might be seeing some new faces that you haven’t seen in a while. Some that might have differing opinions than you on politics or COVID. Although these conversations might be tough to navigate, here are some tips that might help you get through them:

1. Find an activity to focus your attention on if you know conversations are going to be challenging if left open ended. It is easier for us to find things to chat about when we are doing an activity. Consider cooking, a game, putting up decorations, or other holiday traditions.


Playing Uno cards


2. Remember, you do not have to engage. If you do not want to have that conversation with your uncle about his views on COVID, you don’t have to. This does not mean that you don’t feel strongly about your beliefs. It just means you are going to protect your energy that might already be spread thin. We can often gaslight ourselves about not engaging in ‘hard conversations’ but the reality is we don’t have to. It’s likely we will not have something to say to convenience them outside of their conversations.

Here are some things to say if you feel you are heading into a conversation that is not worth your energy:

  • “I hear that that is important/scary/annoying to you, and it’s important/scary/annoying to me too, and I’m trying to give myself a break for the next couple hours.”

  • “It feels like we could go on and on about this and get nowhere. I really do want to know about what happening in your life though. How are the kids/animals/your job/your new home?”

  • “Your friendship is more important to me than this argument. Let’s take a break from this and talk about something else. I really do want to know how things are going with you outside of this.”

3. Be cognizant of your own alcohol use or alcohol availability at your gathering. Alcohol often fuels us to say the things we won’t normally say. Although this can be positive, it’s often a recipe for disaster. It’s not to say all events should be dry ones, but just be aware of the amount of alcohol you consume or help others consume a little less by normalizing that holidays don’t necessarily mean all day drinking or binge drinking, even if that has been normalized in years past.


Holiday dinner party with glasses raised


4. Head outside for a walk. Need a break? A great get away is to take a little stroll around the block, either by yourself, with an animal or another person. It’s perfectly okay to take a break and get some fresh air. Walking can help lower blood pressure, which can also help given we tend to eat a lot more salt during the holidays. Especially if things are getting heated, take yourself out of the conversation. It doesn’t mean you are the ‘loser’ or you’re walking away. It’s just giving yourself some time to calm down and think rationally.

5. Don’t ignore your own health. January is a month with some of the highest levels of ER utilizations, mainly because people don’t want to ruin the holidays and seek out medical care. We are much more likely to engage in aggression, anger, or just be plain mean when we don’t feel well. When we’re in pain, have low blood sugar, or have high blood pressure it can impact our emotions and our emotional response to others. Please seek help if you need it and continue your routine healthcare, like taking your medication as prescribed and doing your best to stay on track if you are supposed to be eating a special diet, for high blood pressure or dialysis for example.

The holidays can be a time of joy, but they can also be stressful. Don’t forget yourself. Take the time to take care of your own health, wellbeing, and happiness. You are not selfish for doing so, you are instead ensuring you are able to be around others for many holidays to come!

Looking for more tips and guidance? JFS Orlando’s counselors are specialized in various areas and are here to support you. Telehealth counseling appointments now available! Medicare, Medicaid, and almost all insurances are accepted. Sliding scale available for those who do not have insurance or have an insurance we do not accept. Call 407-644-7671 or complete our online form to request an appointment today!

Author: Ashlyn Douglass-Barnes, LCSW 

Ashlyn Douglass-Barnes, LCSW is the Clinical Director and a licensed clinical social worker at JFS Orlando. Ashlyn has worked in a variety of settings including outpatient community based mental health, inpatient/admission psychiatric hospital, substance abuse/DUI, dialysis/medical, and in home/office outpatient therapy. 

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