Smart strategies for coping with your family members when tensions run high during the holidays.

By Gail Saltz, MD
December 05, 2016
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Wondering if it's weird to dread spending time with your family during the holidays? The answer: No, not at all. Holidays bring out the best and the worst in families. It's a time when people with lots of history and baggage, as well as differing personalities and opinions, come together under the same roof for an extended period. On top of that, we often go into these occasions with enormous expectations of perfect togetherness. Put it all together and you've got a recipe for anxiety and friction (not to mention disappointment when things don't go seamlessly).

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It helps if you plan activities to do together but also leave room for breaks from each other, as well as limit how much time you all spend in the same space. If everyone is gearing up for the family flag football game in the yard, say, go ahead and sit this one out. Grab your hubby and walk around the block just the two of you. No harm, no foul—you can join in the board game tournament after dinner. The quality of your time with your loved ones matters more than the quantity. And taking those breathers from each other will probably make the moments you kick back as a group much more peaceful and meaningful.

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That's not to say you won't bicker or have a fiery moment over dessert. But think before you engage: If your highly opinionated uncle is going on about his extreme political views at the table, you might decide that it's not worth it to provide the counterpoint to his argument. In any type of family face-off, avoid getting personal. It's normal to get annoyed by each other's quirks, but you don't need to strike back and hurt someone you love with your words. The bottom line? When you feel your nerves beginning to fray, just remind yourself: You love this bunch.


Gail Saltz, MD, is a psychiatrist and television commentator in New York City who specializes in health, sex, and relationships.