Holiday Stress: 5 Ways to Stay True to You When Visiting FamilyDec 20, 2023
As seen on The Embody Lab blog
Are you feeling the stress of the holidays? You’re not alone. The holidays can be the most stressful time of year for many if not most of us: in the U.S., a whopping 89% of adults say that anticipating family conflict, among other factors, causes them stress at this time of year.1
Not only do our task loads often become more intense—wading through packed airports, snail-paced lines at the post office, buying and wrapping gifts—but underneath it all, we’re also managing cultural expectations to fit into the jolly, picture-perfect family system that many of us simply don’t have. It’s a tall order that can feel overwhelming to your nervous system as you navigate spending time with family.
If you’re choosing to spend your holidays with family, here are some somatic and cognitive practices to support you as you navigate the joys and challenges of the season.
1. Think of your time with family as an experiment.
One of the trickiest parts of spending time with family can be the patterns and systems that vividly come to life as soon as we’re back in each other’s company.
So let’s try a little thought experiment: imagine for a moment that your trip home is like a play on a theater stage, and you are an actor playing a part that others expect from you, or you may have even learned to expect from yourself.
Now imagine you’re not just the actor but the writer and director of your own character. You’re in charge of your own lines and how you embody your role on stage. What might you change? How might even a small shift to your character, like sending yourself self-compassion in challenging moments, send a ripple effect throughout the play?
See if you can bring attention to how you show up and try something new in little moments when you’re feeling resourced. Holding a broader perspective can help you see the role you’re playing and begin to make choices that support you in stressful moments.
2. Find your roots in yourself.
Family relationships are complex. Instead of orienting your attention outward toward managing others, succumbing to the pressure of behaving perfectly, or not rocking the boat, set an intention to bring your awareness inward toward yourself as a kind of home base during your time with family.
Somatically, this can look like imagining roots growing from the soles of your feet and pelvis straight down into the center of the earth and anchoring into the earth’s core. Sit for a moment and visualize these roots: they can be whatever shape or color you like. The roots can follow you wherever you go as you walk and move. Let yourself feel a sense of belonging and connection in your body through these roots, no matter what’s happening around you.
3. Take 5 before you start your day.
Sometimes it’s easy to get swept away by all the activities and chatter of family gatherings. Giving yourself even a few minutes of mindfulness before you engage with others can help you anchor yourself in your own experience so that, even if you get swept away later, it’s easier to come back to yourself.
Try taking five minutes right when you wake up, before you leave your room or even before you open your eyes to meditate or breathe and center yourself to prepare yourself for the action the day ahead may bring.
4. Find a safe zone.
For those of us who are highly sensitive or introverted, it can be especially intense to feel like you’re required to be on all the time in a way you normally wouldn’t.
Identify a safe space in the house like the bathroom or even an outside area away from the gathering, where you can take a deep breath, release some emotions, and come back to yourself.
See if you can identify your safe zone before you arrive, and be willing to change your location if needed. Having this space in the back of your mind can be a resource for you to access more peace and calm when you need it.
5. Do a recap and assess for next year.
After your visit is over, you’re back home, and your emotions have settled, do a recap of what worked and what didn’t. What choices did you make that supported you, and what choices didn’t support you as much? How would you like to take action differently next year?
Zoom out for a moment and look at your pattern of spending time with family for the past five years. Were there times that were easier or more fun than others? What contributed to your experience being more or less enjoyable? And how might it be possible for you to replicate that moving forward?
This isn’t about being perfect or completely changing family dynamics—it’s about continuing to fine-tune your experience with family and keep showing up as yourself as you integrate the healing work you’ve been doing in your own life.
When it’s over
As the whirlwind subsides and you find yourself back in the comfort of your own space, take a moment to appreciate the resilience and self-awareness you've cultivated during this holiday journey.
And remember: you’re not the only one navigating the stress of family gatherings. Even when you feel alone, the families next door are doing their best to enjoy their time with each other too.
May you find more ease in your holiday experiences as you embody the wisdom gained from your personal growth. Here’s to peaceful moments and genuine connections with yourself and your loved ones in the years to come.
1. Bethune, Sophie. “Even a Joyous Holiday Season Can Cause Stress for Most Americans.” American Psychological Association, 2023. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2023/11/holiday-season-stress.
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