“Where’s Your Holiday Spirit?”: How to Maneuver a Particularly Unique Holiday Season

Here we are again: the Holidays. A joyous reunion of family and friends, festive lights, hot cocoa, and engaging conversation. Or…maybe not. Reunions can be stressful even when they involve close family and friends. But the added stressors of a seemingly never-ending pandemic and its increasingly confusing landscape adds a different connotation to the word  “celebration” this year. For example, a few years ago, we may have had to deal with some of the following questions:

  • “So you’re still working at the same place?”
  • “So when are you two finally going to tie the knot?”
  • “When am I getting those grandbabies?!”

In addition to having to deal with these overly-intrusive and potentially rude questions that we are all-too-familiar with, we may need to prepare for some new awkward questions and comments, such as:

  • “I see the ‘Quarantine 15’ hit you pretty hard!”
  • “So what’s your opinion on this whole ‘vaccination’ thing?”

What makes these questions particularly difficult is that you may have a strong opinion, one that you wish or feel obligated to share, which can cause additional stress. Is it our place to express our opinion and cause a potential rift at the party? Is it okay to speak up when we feel questions or comments are inappropriate or mean spirited?  Would it be better to just ignore and walk away in these circumstances?

The truth is, there is no “right” answer, so we at STEPS would like to offer a brief guide for maneuvering these conversations during the holiday season. Below are some general tips for dealing with potentially stressful social situations this year. Using psychodynamic theory and Dialectical Behavior Therapy,  we will offer skills to identify the best way to approach (or avoid) difficult topics when they do inevitably arise.

General Tips 

  • Practice social self-care: Self-care in the context of our interpersonal relationships is just as important as taking care of ourselves when we are alone. Remind yourself that if a relationship is meant to be a part of your social self-care, they should make you feel good. If you find that a conversation is emotionally overwhelming, it is completely fine to step away.
  • Know your boundaries: Everyone has slightly different social needs, so identifying our own personal boundaries will go a long way. Acknowledge that our time is just as valuable as anyone else’s. No one is automatically entitled to our energy and free time, especially if the interaction makes us feel awkward or uncomfortable.
  • Have a “buddy” or code word: Speaking beforehand with a trusted friend or family member, and creating a plan to remove ourselves from stressful social interactions is a completely reasonable and effective way to deal with any unnecessary anxiety this holiday season.
  • Acknowledge how different/difficult this year is compared to others: No matter what our circumstances are this holiday season, it is undoubtedly unique due to the ongoing COVID pandemic. After a year of isolation, we may have less patience for some of our more “challenging” friends and relatives. This could cause increased anxiety concerning the pandemic, and is something we need to be aware of as we enter this particular holiday season.

Hopefully these tips provide some general guidance during the holidays this year.

Using Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills – Clarifying Priorities

In order to help shed some light on ways to help you make decisions in a difficult social interaction, let us look at interpersonal effectiveness from a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) perspective. Essentially, we can look at any relationship interaction through the lens of what our priorities are. The leading question becomes: What are your specific objectives for this particular interaction? From a psychodynamic perspective, whether the subject is what to cook for Holiday dinner, or a fraught topic such as the efficacy of COVID vaccinations, the relationship dynamics at play might not change, especially if these dynamics are entrenched. However, what can change is the way we communicate within these relationships. These objectives can be broken down into three important components:

  1. Getting what you want/obtaining your goal
  2. Preserving the relationship
  3. Maintaining your self-respect

With this in mind, we would like to share a few skills and questions to ask yourself in order to help you maneuver these social interactions more effectively:

  • If I choose to engage: 
    • Are my thoughts/feelings coming from a place of care and kindness?
      • In this scenario, we want to preserve the relationship, get out what we want to say (our goal), while maintaining our self-respect in the process
    • Is this more about the topic or the person who I’m speaking with?
      • If we find our objective is more about the point we want to get across, we should ask ourselves: Is this more important than maintaining the relationship
    • Do I find myself getting enraged when discussing this topic?
      • Anger is a perfectly acceptable human emotion, but if we start to lose control because we are fighting strongly for something, we are maintaining our self-respect at all costs, including possibly failing to obtain our goals or maintain our relationships.
  • If I choose to ignore:
    • If I choose not to share my views, will I regret that I didn’t speak up?
      • From a DBT perspective, we need to ask ourselves if not speaking up about a particular topic would be a detriment to our own self-respect and values, and act accordingly.
    • If I or the person I’m engaging with seems angry, would it be possible to come back to this topic later when we are more calm?
      • In this scenario, we prioritize maintaining our relationship, with a hope to obtain our goal of sharing our perspective at a later time.
    • Am I scared to broach this topic with this particular person?
      • If you find that you are afraid to speak with a family member or friend about a topic you feel strongly about, you may find that you neither achieve your goal, preserve the relationship, nor maintain your self-respect. You may need to consider what about this particular relationship elicits such fear.

In closing, we can all acknowledge that enjoying ourselves and each other could be a bit more complicated this year, including dealing with the potential loss and grief of the past year. However, we can also acknowledge that we are making progress, and spending time with loved ones is a gift, one we may not have been afforded last year. We at STEPS do hope you have an enjoyable and meaningful holiday season, and take time to consider what that may mean for you.

Author: Dr. Ryan Daniels

Dr. Ryan Daniels earned his Master’s Degree at the Derner Institute for Advanced Psychological Studies at Adelphi University, Garden City, NY, and his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, FL. Dr. Daniels has written articles and served on the board of numerous mental health organizations, such as the Florida chapter of Active Minds—an organization dedicated to reducing mental health stigma among teens and young adults.

Send Us a Message

Want to get started with therapy or contact us?
Fill out the form below and our staff will reach out!

Preferred location (may select more than one)

Our therapy services are available for individuals, couples, and families. The first step in beginning treatment is to set up a consultation for an initial assessment. During your assessment, you’ll be introduced to a therapist who will complete a comprehensive evaluation and discuss some of your options. To get started, call the main office at 631-301-4888 to set up an appointment at any of our locations.