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Counseling director shares tips for surviving holiday stress

12.05.2014 | By:

Linda Metcalf, Ph.D., director of Texas Wesleyan’s graduate counseling programs, says that 83 percent of Americans feel that the holidays are for being with family and friends*, yet it's not always easy.

“Uncomfortable questions from relatives you may see only once a year can make you dread holiday gatherings,” Metcalf said. “You can ease these situations and enjoy the time with relatives with a little prep.”

Here’s Metcalf’s advice for comfortable conversations this holiday season:

1. Anticipate the uncomfortable questions and plan your answer

Personal questions from extended family like "when are you getting married?" or, "when are you having a baby?" or, "when are you going to get a better job?" may seem harmless to them, but put you in an uncomfortable situation. A simple answer of "I really don't have an answer for that right now. Tell me how you are?" is all you have to say.

2. Be in the conversation driver’s seat

For family members you don't see too often, keep the questions about what they are currently doing and express a sincere interest. Try, "I have always wanted to visit South Carolina. Tell me what you love about it?"  Or, "Your kids are so active. What kinds of things do they like to do at home?"

3. Instead of dreading an encounter, think of it as a way to exhibit who you are becoming

Get a new scarf, a new shirt or be ready to share a project that you are happy about. Even if those you talk to aren't too interested, you have at least presented yourself in a dignified way and you can walk away proud of who you have become.

4. Redescribe your relatives with positive labels

Maybe the angry uncle can benefit from a "assertive" label, or the nosy grandmother can be easier to talk to if she is "fascinated by what I am doing” label. Such new labels are fun to construct and help you make it through rocky conversations and questions.

5. Take time to do things that are fun for you and those you love

Studies show that those who have spiritual beliefs and family traditions do better during the holidays in terms of happy encounters. Studies show that volunteering boosts happiness, self-esteem and self-confidence.

— Linda Metcalf, Ph.D., LMFT
Texas Wesleyan University