Holiday Stress: 7 Tips for Surviving Difficult Family Members for Happier Holidays

So Uncle Bob is coming for the Holidays. Only he gives you the creeps and makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. What do you do?

One of the most common causes of stress during the holidays is….you guessed it….interaction with extended family members. You know, people you might be able to avoid the rest of the year, but now…..well, you don’t feel you can and keep up with family obligations.

Before I get into tips for dealing with difficult people, let’s deal with the bottom line; take stress seriously like it’s a toxin that can kill you.  Why? Because it can, and does, shorten your life.  Eating clean can lesson the blow of stress in the body, but not eliminate it.  There are different processes at play when it comes to dealing with stress.  But it’s just as important to pay attention to stress, how you deal with it, and how you diminish it, as it is to eat clean for health.

Now, here are some guidelines I recommend to my clients when the holidays roll around:


  1. Take your overall health into account first.

If your life has been overwhelming lately, and you are the kind of person who feels more balanced with less social stimuli, give yourself permission to take a break from tradition.  Don’t go.  Do something else altogether.  Go on a mini vacation. Head to Vegas or a Spa.  Binge watch Netflix.  Or spend the whole day on a hike with your dogs.  Why not? Tradition is important.  But sometimes the needs of the 1 outweigh the needs of the many.

Sometimes this is not possible, or would cause even more discomfort for you in the long run.  In that case, make sure you use the other techniques below to give your

On the other hand……if your extended family is a great source of strength for you, see if you can extend your time with them.

  1. Have a Plan.

You know the behavior patterns of your family members.  Maybe grandma still stays up for 3 days cooking, then crashes in the bedroom – missing the rest of the festivities.  Uncle Bob overdoes it on the Bourbon egg nog and eventually gets in everyone’s business……and stands too close for comfort (hair on back of neck up is appropriate then).  Or, people nosh and talk until someone opens an unpopular subject – but that always happens when dessert is served.

People are creatures of habit.  Knowing this, you can see the warning signs and avoid or diminish the impact of the unwanted activity.  You can either remove yourself to another room or outside, practice calming tools (below) and stay present, or decide to simply observe and “play” with their behavior in your head (imagine other silly things going on instead of the bad behavior presented – day dream it).

Or, you can accept that person as is, consciously know there’s nothing to do about it, and move on.  In other words, their behavior has nothing to do with you.


  1. Keep a “Safety Net” in Your Pocket.

Sometimes the issue is a need to feel more confident or soothed in a moment when someone feels too aggressive or abusive in some way.   A “worry stone,” a security blanket, or something that helps distract you out of your difficult emotions and into your comforting emotions is a great option.

I keep a polished stone heart, and a teleidescope handy for these purposes.  I can rub the heart without people realizing I’m doing anything at all.  The teleidescope allows me to literally see my environment in a completely different way; a reminder that all is usually not what it seems to be.

  1. Help Now for When it’s Really “Bad”

If you’ve lost your internal cool and are on number 11 on your OMG-ometer, it’s time for Help Now.  This means getting out of your emotions altogether, and into your physical body.  Here are a few physical distraction techniques (full list included in my 30 Day Detox):

  • Jump up and down and count backwards
  • Slap or lightly pinch your leg repeatedly
  • Use your sense of touch to fully explore the various textures in a room, or outside in nature; the latter has more ultimate benefit I’ve found.
  • Play with a ball or other object, and work up a sweat.


  1. Practice Patience……Wait Before Responding

Although you may feel an urge to respond in the moment after being reamed out, or hearing something you really object to, by a relative……try waiting or escaping,  If your goal for the day is to come away from the holidays unbruised, this may be your best option.  Actively choose not to engage.  Excuse yourself and go to the bathroom.  Pretend to hear a child calling you.  Suddenly remember that you left something critical in your car.  Retreat and fight another day…..or not at all.  Let the other person keep whatever it is.  You don’t need what they’re offering in that moment… respond by avoiding it altogether.


  1. Form Positive Alliances

If there’s someone more problematic for you in the family, and the situation is temporary, why not form an alliance with another trusted family member who can agree to help you out if the going gets rough.  Discuss your concerns, share your self-help strategies, and even arrange for a clue that only the two of you know.  Make a game of it.  Have a little fun.  Fun is much better than irritation, stress and upset.  Just make sure you share with someone you really trust.


  1. Allow Recovery Time

Honor whatever emotions arise, and let them pass.  Do this instead of holding onto them.  You cannot control what emotions arise, but you can control what you do with them……or not.  This process can happen in an instant, or take more time.  Allow whatever time is necessary for YOU to return to calm before re-entering the fray.

Learning my simple form of Natural Contemplation can really be helpful here.  You can do it with your eyes open and fully interact with your environment.  But this takes practice.  But the feeling of freedom you get when you’re able to take up the observer position is just amazing!


Bonus Tip: Give Yourself Permission to Leave, and Even to Find New People

Why stay in a toxic environment if you don’t have to? Just go if it’s too toxic.  Some situations demand getting out and saving yourself.  So take care of yourself and just go.  Whatever it is can be worked out later.

And hey…..if you’re involved in a seriously abusive relationship……or your extended family members emotionally or physically abused you in the past…’s fine to FIND NEW PEOPLE.  We are born into a family, but that family doesn’t own us.  They only get to define you to the extent you let them.  First, be true to your own light.  If the people around you don’t appreciate you for you……start the process of finding new friends that become your family so that you can have happier holidays for years to come!







To You Within,