Holiday Conversations With A Therapist

As you might imagine, the holiday season brings a host of varying thoughts and feelings. Some people look forward to the holidays all year and find reprieve in the hustle, bustle, and connection of the season.  Others dread them and do their best just to survive the months of November and December.  

So, we thought we would share small snippets of some of the most common conversations we have during the holiday season – in and out of our offices.  

Family Gatherings

One of the biggest concerns that most people have during the holiday season is how to navigate gatherings with extended family.  Generally, it is important to evaluate each gathering or event separately and reflect on what your needs (and the needs of your family and friends) may be for that event.  Some helpful reflection questions might include:

  • How much time do I want to spend at this event?
  • Will driving separately help me/us have more independence?
  • What topics are off limits, and can I practice a statement/script to help navigate tricky conversations?
  • Do you and your spouse/kids/parents have different needs going into that gathering and have you had a conversation about expectations?
  • Have you had some difficult relational interactions with a family member or friend who will be in attendance?  If those interactions are unresolved, what might your boundaries be at the holiday gathering?
  • What is important to my spouse/parents/children about this event?  How can I focus on their needs and still protect my emotions if it is a difficult event?
  • Communicate clearly with hosts/family members about not attending or leaving early

Holiday Trauma/Loss

For those of you who may be dealing with loss this year or remembering loss from previous years, it is helpful to acknowledge those painful feelings and not put pressure on yourself to perform or mask those feelings during holiday events or family gatherings.  

• Give yourself permission to attend or not attend certain events
• Identify the emotionally safe people in your life and intentionally schedule some time with them
• Be mindful of self-care, which can take many forms.  

  1. Therapy appointments
  2. Exercise Routine
  3. Soothing the nervous system (massage, walking, deep breathing)
  4. Spiritual practices
  5. Support network
  6. Create or participate in a memorial of some kind that has special meaning for you

Holiday Cheer/Connection

Some people think that therapists only talk with people about the pain and challenges of life.  However, it might surprise many to know that we often have the privilege to help craft positive and connected experiences with family and loved ones. When you are wanting to create more connection and emotional intimacy with loved ones, these ideas might be helpful:

> Reduce the pressure to have a “perfect” event and focus more on creating space for everyone to connect emotionally/relationally
> Do a fun activity together where no one is an expert, like a Christmas craft, a gingerbread house, or an ornament swap
> Go on a nature walk or hike and observe what is around you and express your feelings about the event (walking and hiking also has the added benefit of calming the nervous system down)
> Ask some emotionally connected questions and have everyone take turns

  • What is your favorite holiday memory?
  • If we were to start a new holiday tradition, what would be meaningful to you?
  • What is the most important thing about the holiday season for you?
  • Describe something you remember about Christmas from your childhood.
  • When you were kid, what did you want your adult holidays to look like and how could we make that happen?
  • Around every holiday season, we tend to feel stress, what would be a good way to care for ourselves and lessen that stress this year?
  • What is your favorite Christmas carol and why?
  • Share a story, memory, or current experience related to the holidays that makes you laugh.

In summary, the holiday season is rarely perfect and often brings a mixture of both positive and negative emotions.  And, that is normal and human!  We can all work toward holding joy and pain together.  

From the Journeys family to you and yours, we wish you moments of peace in the midst of an often challenging and difficult season.  

This Post Written By:
Roxane Thorstad, PsyD – Journeys Counseling Center
6516 S. Rural Road, Suite 101
Tempe, Arizona 85283
Phone: (480) 656-0500