Navigating Family Dynamics: 10 Tips for Mental Health and Wellness in Holiday Gatherings

Navigating Family Dynamics: 10 Tips for Mental Health and Wellness in Holiday Gatherings

Are you gearing up for the holiday season with a mix of excitement and worry? You’re not alone. Holidays bring joy and family traditions but can also stir up stress and old arguments. This can affect your mental well-being more than you realize.

A survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)1 illustrates this. According to the study, 66% of people feel lonely during the holidays. In addition, 63% feel pressured, and 57% feel less happy than before. Understandably, Americans feel more stressed during the holidays than at other times. They’re five times more likely to feel this way.2

This blog aims to help you navigate holiday family dynamics. From setting boundaries to managing stress, we’ve covered you with practical tips. So you can enjoy the holiday season while caring for your mental health.

Tip 1: Set Personal Boundaries

Boundaries allow you to balance family time and taking care of yourself. Dr. Devika Bhushan says that boundaries can keep your mind healthy and peaceful.

Boundaries work because they clarify what you expect when you’re with others. This cuts down on mix-ups and the associated stress.

But setting boundaries might take some practice. Here’s a simplified guide to get started:

  • First, know what you’re okay with and what’s too much for you.
  • When you need to, tell people about your limits in a kind but firm way.
  • It’s okay to say no if something doesn’t feel right.
  • Remember, not everyone will like that you’re setting boundaries. So get ready for some pushback.
  • If setting boundaries feels too hard, talking to a psychologist can help.

Tip 2: Focus on Sleep

Dealing with family can be stressful. Getting enough sleep can help you cope. A study3 with more than 8,000 people found sleeping well can reduce feelings of worry. In another study,4 3,700 people focused on sleeping better for ten weeks. This enabled them to deal with negative thoughts.

Here’s how you can improve your sleep:

  • Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Yes, even during the holidays.
  • Make your bedroom a peaceful place. Keep it quiet and dark, and ensure your bed is comfortable.
  • Be careful with what you eat and drink at night. Stay away from too much coffee, big meals, and alcohol.
  • Relax before bedtime. Try deep breathing or meditation to help you unwind.
  • Incorporate exercise into your routine during the day. This can help you sleep better at night.
  • Keep your naps short.
  • Don’t spend too much time on your phone or watching TV right before bed.

Tip 3: Identify and Manage Anxiety Triggers

In a study5 across seven countries, 1 out of every three people felt anxious in social situations. Globally, about 12% of people think this way.6 This anxiety stems from:

  • Feeling pressured by others into doing things you don’t want.
  • Feeling sad or lonely.
  • Looking at social media and thinking everyone else is having a better time.

Learning to identify and manage these feelings can improve your mental health. Here’s what you can do:

  • Do things that make you feel good.
  • Talk about any feelings of loneliness instead of keeping them inside. You can reach out to friends and family members that understand you.
  • Spend less time on social media so you don’t have to compare your holiday to everyone else’s.
  • Helping others can make you feel good, too. You could volunteer in your neighborhood.
  • Seek professional help.

Tip 4: Build a Support System

Having someone who supports you can help with your mental well-being.7 This is because:

  • When someone listens to you, it helps you feel like your thoughts and feelings matter.
  • Hearing someone say that things will be okay can give you a boost when you’re feeling unsure or scared.
  • Your support person might see things differently, which can help you feel calmer.
  • Having someone around can make you feel less alone. 

Finding that special someone can be challenging, though. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Reach out to friends or family. Identify people in your life who make you feel understood and supported. These can be close friends, family members, or even a coworker.
  • Join support groups. Look for community groups or online forums where people discuss similar issues.
  • Connect with a therapist or counselor. Sometimes, professional guidance is necessary. A therapist can offer a safe space to discuss your feelings.
  • Take part in community activities. Engaging in community events can provide a sense of belonging and purpose. It’s also an opportunity to meet new people.
  • Use online resources. Many online resources and apps focus on mental health. These can be useful for advice, tips, and connecting with others.

Tip 5: Learn When to Say No

Saying no is vital for taking care of yourself. But how do you decide when to say no? Say no if:

  • Going to an event will make you feel stressed.
  • You already have plans you can’t change.
  • You feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
  • Something about the event goes against what you believe.

Some people may struggle to say no, even when they know it’s the right thing to do. To counteract this, you can begin by being direct. Say thanks for the invite and let them know you can’t make it. Remember, you don’t have to share every detail.

Tip 6: Communicate Boundaries in Advance

Communicating your boundaries before an event can make things go smoother. It helps everyone know what to expect and keeps you comfortable. A study showed that it can lower stress and worry.8

But talking about your boundaries is easier said than done. Here’s how to get started:

  • Pick a time to chat when everyone is feeling calm and not busy with other stuff. It’s better not to start this talk during a get-together.
  • Explain your boundaries by talking about what you need and how you feel.
  • Be ready to listen to your family’s thoughts about your boundaries so no one misunderstands. Find a middle ground that keeps your boundaries and works for your family if you can.

It’s all about ensuring you and your family understand each other. This way, everyone can feel okay and have a good time together.

Tip 7: Use Therapy to Prepare

Talking to a therapist before you meet your family can give you some great ideas for handling stress. Studies9 show that such therapy can help families get along better. It’s especially beneficial for teenagers and their families.10

This is because a therapist can help you determine what makes family time stressful.11 A therapist can also equip you with skills to handle these challenging moments.12 This includes ways to keep calm and communicate better.

Tip 8: Embrace Mindfulness Practices

Mindfulness can help you relax during the holidays. It allows you to live in the now and not worry too much about what’s already happened or what’s coming up. People in one study13 meditated for just 13 minutes every day for eight weeks. They reported feeling happier and better able to handle their emotions.

Here are some accessible mindful practices you can adopt today:

  • Mindful breathing. Close your eyes, take slow, deep breaths, and think about your breathing for a few minutes.
  • Mindful eating. When you eat, pay attention to how your food tastes, what it feels like, and how it smells.
  • Mindful walking. If it’s nice outside, take a walk and focus on how your body feels and the sounds around you.
  • Practice gratitude. Take a moment to think about all the good things and people around you during the holidays.

Tip 9: Learn to Manage Environmental Stressors

Did you know that loud noises can make your body produce more stress hormones?14 Likewise, crowded places and eating too many sweets can cause health problems.15 Learning to navigate these problems can make the holidays more enjoyable for you. With that in mind, here’s what you can do:

  • Try to find quiet and less crowded places. If you’re having a party, invite just a few people.
  • Choose a soft spot in your house where you can relax. Noise-canceling headphones are fabulous, too. Also, keep the music at a level that feels good for you.
  • Go for decorations that are simple and not too busy. Cool colors and plants can make you feel calmer.
  • Make sure you dress right for the weather. If it’s terrible outside, plan to do fun things inside.

Tip 10: Express Your Emotions

Letting out your feelings is vital for your mental health. A study16 with 145 people showed this. When participants shared their feelings, their bodies produced fewer stress hormones. The effect was the same when participants wrote about their feelings.17

When sharing your feelings, follow this step-wise guide:

  • Pick a good time and place to talk about your feelings.
  • Start by saying “I feel…” instead of “You make me feel…”.
  • Be clear about what you’re feeling and why.
  • Listen to the other person and try not to blame or criticize them. This keeps things calm and prevents arguments.
  • Try to understand how the other person sees things. This doesn’t mean you have to agree. Instead, see where they’re coming from.


The holidays can be fun but also stressful with all the family stuff. Remember, it’s okay to take care of yourself during this time. Set your own rules about what you’re comfortable with, and get plenty of sleep. Also, knowing what makes you anxious and having a plan is vital. Naturally, having friends or family listen to you is excellent. Saying ‘no’ is okay too. If you’re not up for something, that’s fine.

Holidays can be a lot to handle, but with these ideas, you can make them more fun and chill. Taking care of yourself is the best thing you can do during the holiday season!


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Written By
Azrung Fayaz
Doctor of Internal Medicine | MBBS, FCPS, MRCP

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