A Therapist's Top 4 Ways to Stay Calm During Stressful Holiday Gatherings

Avoid reverting to toxic patterns with these simple tips.

With high expectations for holiday cheer, family gatherings can be stressful for everyone involved. To make matters worse, if you tend to have a strained relationship with your family, you may find yourself regressing into well-worn patterns that make you more prone to judgments, arguments, or anger. That's why Jeff Guenther, LPC, a therapist and content creator who goes by Therapy Jeff on social media, recently shared his top four ways to stay calm during a stressful holiday gathering, focusing especially on people who find themselves revisiting the toxic family dynamics they've left behind.

You can head over to TikTok to see his decidedly NSFW tirade full of tips or read on for our cleaned-up version of his insights to get you through this holiday season.

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Limit your feelings of obligation.

man and woman at holiday dinner party
Spaskov / Shutterstock

Being in a family sometimes means setting your own feelings aside for the sake of greater peace. However, Guenther says it's important to limit your feelings of obligation toward your family members if they have done little to earn your trust or affection.

"Remind yourself that it's completely okay to not want closeness with certain family members even if they are your biological relatives. Being related doesn't obligate you," he says.

Give yourself permission to change and grow.

Happy multiethnic multi-generational family enjoying Christmas time together. People love concept.

Guenther suggests that a common cause for conflict at family holiday gatherings is that one person has grown, while other "stagnant" family members view their changed nature as a betrayal or rejection.

"You're abandoning their toxic system. It's easier for them to blame you rather than face their own accountability for the hurt they've caused. Remember, it is not your fault for striving to be a better person," he says.

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Honor your stated boundaries.

family at holiday dinner
PeopleImages.com – Yuri A / Shutterstock

If you don't communicate your boundaries, you can't expect people to honor them. However, once you have shared those boundaries with others, it's fair to hold them firmly, says Guenther.

"Stand before the mirror and firmly recite this affirmation: 'My intention is peace and harmony. I will hold space for my family members without judgment because I am the bigger person and I take pride in that. They're just doing their best. But let it be clear—if one more person crosses a clearly stated boundary, I will excuse myself,'" he says.

Focus on the physical.

young bearded man looking seriously in the bathroom mirror

Peppered throughout his advice for when you're "hiding in the bathroom wondering… how you're related to these people" are two great tips for calming yourself down physically.

First, Geunther suggests that you can reset your sympathetic nervous system by simply adding water: "Turn on the faucet and let your hands glide under the cold water to lower your body temperature."

Second, he recommends taking a moment to practice breath control before heading back into the gathering. "Plant yourself on the floor, back up against the wall, and engage in some slow, deep breathing," he recommends.

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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