November 14, 2018 Daniel Olavarria, LCSW

Holidays After the Midterm Elections: Tips to Deal With Stress

Families have been torn apart since the presidential election in 2016 and the midterm elections might add to that tension. Siblings and parents have taken sides and loved ones can seem more divided than ever. The struggle is real. How can you possibly pass the gravy to your dad as he parrots “build the wall” rhetoric in front of your partner who is an immigrant or your mixed-race child? How do you open holiday presents with your sister who refuses to acknowledge your gender transition? How are you supposed to smile in family photos with your brother who insists on wearing the MAGA hat?

Perhaps your immediate or extended family dynamics aren’t that extreme. Maybe it’s just really uncomfortable because you know you’re being invalidated or judged. Perhaps you really don’t want to spend any time with certain members of your family but feel obligated. Holidays are stressful as it is, with crowds and presents and extra calories. Having a conflict of values piled on top of that can feel downright overwhelming. Each circumstance is different, but here are some tips to make the most out of this holiday season:

  • Remind yourself that it is very possible to love someone and not like them. You are not required to like a person or their behaviors simply because they are your family. You can love them fiercely and loyally as family and also know that you wouldn’t be friends in a million years. Leave it at that.
  • Moderate your drinking. I know, they drive you to drink. I get it. Imbibing only makes it worse though, as feelings are magnified, tongues are looser, and it’s more likely for all hell to break loose. One glass of wine with dinner is fine. After that, switch to sparkling water and save the rest of your festivities for after the family gathering.
  • Remember that wishing something is not the same as having something. Wishing that you can make someone see your point of view is admirable. If it becomes clear that there are rigid ideological differences, remember that you can’t easily change someone’s belief system. Hope is a powerful thing, but you need not attend every argument you are invited to. If the discussion becomes heated, or if you’ve been baited, remember that you control your actions. You can smile wearily and say you’d rather change the topic, or you can simply walk away…for your own sake.
  • Self-care is important. Do things that keep you centered and grounded. Traveling or hosting can be stressful. Make sure you bring things that are good for your self-care. It could be sneakers and earbuds for long runs, a good book, appointments for massages, a stash of chocolate, essential oils, or your pet. Make sure your soul is being fed. Having a friend or two who you can vent to is helpful as well. Perhaps it’s a good time to schedule your next appointment with your therapist.
  • Sometimes self-care means not putting yourself in the situation. Only you can decide that. Either excusing yourself from the situation altogether or declining to attend a holiday gathering in the first place are both perfectly appropriate decisions. If you know it’s just going to be too stressful, or too damaging to relationships, politely extricate yourself from the situation or invitation. You need not justify your decision either. Simply saying “Thank you so much for thinking of me. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend,” is a complete answer. Practice saying it out loud, and practice stopping after that second sentence. You don’t owe anybody any explanation. If pressed, you can cite “a conflict.” And that’s a complete answer too. Hard stops are perfectly kind and appropriate.

You’ve got 99 problems, and family arguments don’t need to be one. Even in the best of times, it’s rare to have stress-free holiday gatherings. When spending time with family, we often revert back to our old roles and understandings of each other, which can create conflict when our values have evolved in different directions. Piling on current world events and social and political issues can make things even harder. Even so, hopefully these strategies can minimize the pain.

Daniel Olavarria, LCSW

Daniel is a licensed therapist who works with adults and couples in his private practice, The City Psychotherapy. Based in New York City, he regularly presents on issues related to mental health and diversity across the country.

In addition to writing on health, relationships, pursuing passions, and work-life balance, Daniel is also a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and an emerging coffee aficionado. He lives with his husband in Manhattan.