Home for the holidays? How to de-stress when traveling back home to see your family

Returning home for the holidays can sometimes be stressful.

For some people, being around family members that they only see once a year or with whom they don’t have the strongest relationship can be anxiety-inducing.

How can home-goers ensure their holidays aren’t bogged down by family stress?

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Licensed medical family therapist Jeff Yoo at Moment of Clarity Mental Health Center in Orange County, California, shared advice in an interview with Fox News Digital.

“In my opinion, the holidays present a mixture of excitement and stress, where a little stress is natural,” he said. “For some, the upcoming festivities bring back memories or reflections on past strained relationships.”

family greet at the door during holidays

Some people may experience “distress” at being expected to show up for holiday gatherings regardless of their feelings, one family therapist noted. (iStock)

“The distress of being expected to show up regardless of your feelings and in what may be a sense of duty or misplaced loyalty could be too much for some,” Yoo also said.

The expert listed a variety of elements that can “compromise our feelings” when we meet up with family members. These elements can include childhood trauma, unresolved conflicts and hurtful discussions.

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Differences in people’s financial ability to give or exchange gifts can also add strain, he said.

Regardless of the origin of the stress, Yoo shared five tips for reducing family-related anxiety around holiday time.

1. Plan ahead

Planning ahead is “absolutely the key to making sure you create your own place at the table” for the holidays, Yoo said.

family at christmas dinner

People should shift their potentially negative thoughts about getting together with family, said one expert. “Change negative thinking to positive thinking,” he said. (iStock)

“If you are invited to more than one gathering, make it clear that you have another place to go and make each one short,” he suggested. 

“If you are a non-drinker, declare a sober holiday or bring your own beverage.”

“Choose to not battle on this day and walk away from those who rattle you.”

The therapist advised individuals to change their mindset as they head into each event.

“Be on time and show up with a pleasant attitude,” he said. “Do not preconceive how the day will go; change negative thinking to positive thinking.”

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“Choose to not battle on this day and walk away from those who rattle you,” Yoo added.

Mia Rosenberg, a psychotherapist and owner at Upsider Therapy in New York, told Fox News Digital that while avoiding hot-topic conversations may be difficult, it’s important to set boundaries. 

Friends celebrating around the Christmas table

“Do not preconceive how the day will go,” one therapist suggested. (iStock)

“If and when hot topics come up, you can set a boundary by saying something like, ‘Let’s not get into XYZ, it can be controversial and we’re all having a good time. Why don’t we talk about ABC instead?’”

2. Be prepared

To ensure a punctual arrival, Yoo said people should give themselves plenty of time to get ready, while factoring in gift wrapping, food preparations and travel time.

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In cases where there is known tension between family members, it may be wise to have a separate conversation ahead of your arrival, according to Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and author of “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do,” who is based in Marathon, Florida. 

woman returns home for christmas

To ensure a punctual arrival, people should give themselves plenty of time to get ready, while factoring in gift wrapping, food preparations and travel time. (iStock)

“If there’s a relative who often starts tiffs, it may be helpful to have a conversation with this person about your expectations,” she told Fox News Digital. 

3. Be open about budgets

Even though finances can be a difficult topic of conversation, people should talk with loved ones about any financial struggles if there is stress about gift-giving, said Yoo. 

“Most people will be happier to spend time with you and yours than to receive gifts,” he said.

family opens presents on christmas

Yoo suggested simplifying gift-giving by picking names and gifting to just one person in the family. (iStock)

One idea is to create handmade gifts that “come from the heart instead of the pocket.”

4. Simplify holiday pressures

It’s vital to simplify expectations on spending, giving and even eating excessively during the holidays, said Yoo.

“In order to make the best of gatherings, you could try to simplify gift-giving by picking names — one person, one gift — to limit the cost,” he said.

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“I love the concept of fewer gifts, with deeper thought and consideration for each gift presented, making them personalized.”

This “also keeps the meaning of giving in the forefront,” Yoo said.

group of girls wrapping gifts

“In order to make the best of gatherings, you could try to simplify gift-giving by picking names — one person, one gift – to limit the cost,” said one expert. (iStock)

Jonathan Alpert, a psychotherapist and executive performance coach with practices in Manhattan and Washington, D.C., also shared his advice with Fox News Digital, advising people not to “buy into the belief that you have a ‘perfect family’ or that the holiday will be perfect.” 

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“By adjusting your expectations, you’ll be less likely to be disappointed and stressed should something not go according to plan — and you’ll also take the pressure off yourself,” he said.

5. Plan fun family activities

Incorporating fun and family-friendly activities into the holiday agenda could help people blow off some steam, said Yoo.

He suggested planning all-in family games like a scavenger hunt or table and card games.

family plays game at christmas

Planning fun activities for the whole family could help people blow off steam, said one therapist. (iStock)

“Set up teams like children vs. adults,” he said. “Make the best of your time spent with others.”

Remember the importance of spending time with family over giving gifts, said Yoo.

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“Time is much more precious than anything else we could give to each other,” he said.

Erica Lamberg contributed to this report.

For more Lifestyle articles, visit www.foxnews.com/lifestyle.

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