The Stress of Dealing with Family Over the Holidays

Shereeza Ibrahim. B.A.Psych, M.S.W, R.S.W.
Clinical Counsellor and Author

The winter-break can be a stressful time, not only due to finances, and the demands on your time, but also because of family conflict. Whereas the break is meant to give us a few extra days off of work and school, it can be especially stressful for some of us because of all the costs, cooking, visitation and having to deal with difficult personalities.

In general, when you are overwhelmed with tasks and responsibilities, it creates stress which makes you impatient, easily agitated and more likely to snap at others. Now imagine what it’s like when you’re on a time-crunch, with just a few short-days off, to have a number of busy social gatherings. It becomes amplified. Whereas the winter-break is intended as a time for rest, it ends up being quite chaotic. Add to this having to deal with people who make you feel uncomfortable. There are those family-members and friends we are forced to see at these gatherings, and it can be so challenging to navigate speaking to them, tolerating them and managing our own responses.
As mentioned, being stressed makes it hard to calm our emotions, so it is important to resist the desire to over-exert yourself. Limit your visits, limit your hosting, limit your guests, limit how much you plan to cook. Culturally, I know this is all unrealistic to ask, because there are expectations from others and you worry about hurt feelings, but offer to negotiate the visits and number of dishes you plan to cook. You can always offer to host, or visit in January, or decide to have a few dishes catered, which allows you more time to enjoy yourself. Writing out to-do lists and only focusing on whatever you can do in the moment versus the mountain of tasks ahead of you are also helpful in reducing stress.

If you can be more relaxed and well-rested, it will increase your ability to tolerate annoying personalities. Remember, in a room of crowded people, it’s okay to take space from someone who gets on your nerves. If they are hard to avoid, then remind yourself that everyone has flaws, including you. So overlook their annoyances, as others have overlooked yours. Don’t allow your day, evening or winter-break to be ruined over something someone did or said.

Keep in mind, that you are entitled to your opinion and so is everyone else. For adults who are stubborn, it is not your job to change their ways. Likely, if you try to hold them accountable, they may resist and it will only create further tension, so there is no point in fixating on their annoying behaviours and words. Let it go, and enjoy the food, the time off and the other people around you.
Remember during this fast-paced time of year to take time to breathe, have a cup of tea, and look out the window and thank Allah for your warm home, warm bed and the food on your table. Alhamdulilah!

Author Bio: Shereeza is a clinical counsellor and award-winning author, whom offers low- cost telephone counselling through GTA Wellness Consultation at 647-3344556. She has been with the Islamic Institute of Toronto community for over 10 years and is now a regular contributor to the IIT Newsletter.