Dealing with stressful family conversations during the holidays

A family in the middle of a heated discussion at the table. Photo courtesy

As the holiday season approaches, some students are preparing to go home and spend extended amounts of time with their families. Unfortunately for some, this means a lot of difficult conversations that can cause stress. There are, however, ways to handle these conversations. 

Alexandria Robinson, a graduate architecture student at Florida A&M University, spoke about some of the topics that she and her peers may find touchy or stressful around family members of varying generations. Her examples included politics, sexuality and even things like future plans. 

“I’m in graduate school, and my family is always like ‘okay so what’s next?’,” Robinson said. 

Discussing these topics with family may create stress because of the different viewpoints among family members. However, there are ways to cope with the stress that these conversations can bring on. Therapist Selena Lemons gave her insight. 

“Set boundaries, breathe, walk away, practice the speech, prepare for criticism, and know the audience. Realize that everyone is entitled to their point of view or opinion. Also, remember family members, loved ones and friends do not define who we are. We decide who we are,” Lemons said. 

These tips can help you deal with the stress. There are also more tips for dealing with family members who can become critical during these conversations. Luz Bovell, a school social worker, gave a helpful tip for dealing with critical people. 

“Addressing family members who are critical is always interesting. Some family members are open to listening and some are just not. I would suggest not going at it alone but have the support of people around you that can be a buffer when the conversation is going ‘south’,” Bovell said. 

Lemons also gave some insight on how to handle a situation where family members are critical. She suggests that people try to understand other’s views and why they may be critical. 

“[The criticism] is their issue based on their belief system. We should be able to express ourselves, especially around family, without fear. Address them respectfully and discuss the topic. Then, allow the individual to speak and thank them for the input,” Lemons said. 

For some, the solution is to avoid family around the holidays.  

“Many people skip out and avoid being around family and friends, just to escape having to face some of the tough conversations that can creep up,” Bovell said. 

Lemons also spoke about people who may choose to avoid family members and said that it is a reasonable option in some cases. 

“Yes, avoidance. If [the situation] is going to cause the individual additional stress, anxiety or depression, most definitely,” Lemons said. 

These are some of the ways that people can deal with stressful and critical conversations with family members. If the tips do not seem to work in your situation, avoidance is an option as well.