Culture & Society

Five Reasons Your Family Makes Holidays Stressful

A Texas A&M expert explains how to not let it ruin time with your loved ones.
By Alyssa Schutz, Texas A&M Health December 15, 2023

Family toasting on Christmas dinner at home
Family can make the season stressful, but managing your expectations and doing some self-care can help you enjoy time with loved ones.

Getty Images


Most of us have heard the same sentiment echoed during the holiday season, whether it’s by friends, co-workers, classmates or anyone in between: being around family requires some degree of mental and emotional preparation.

We see people roll their eyes when they talk about their in-laws coming for dinner or joke about the amount of wine they’re going to have to drink to deal with their mothers. But there are all kinds of songs about how wonderful the holidays are, and how joyous it is to sing carols and drink hot chocolate around the fire with loved ones. So, why do our realities seem to fall short of these idyllic reveries?

1. Expectations

One of the biggest problems is that we put so much emphasis on having the perfect Christmas or the perfect family gathering when in reality, that just doesn’t exist. We know things are probably going to go wrong or be different than how we imagined. Things are probably going to be stressful or overstimulating at times and holding onto the goal of perfection just stresses us out in general.

We can’t always control how things go or what our families say or do, so it’s important to control how we react. Accepting that things aren’t going to be perfect might be a better way to approach it, rather than stressing about having these perfect family gatherings.

2. Personality Differences

When we have big family get-togethers, there are many different personalities, and we might not always get along with everyone. This can add to the stress that’s already on everyone because of the holidays and it can be difficult to manage.

It can help to have some lighthearted entertainment planned, like a fun game, bonding activity or a gift exchange. Not only does this keep everyone too occupied to bicker, it also creates the feeling that we’re all on the same side.

3. Familial History

Anything having to do with family is bound to be a little messy. We have long, often complicated histories with our relatives, and being around them can bring some of that bubbling up to the surface, especially if your family is not one to talk openly about feelings.

If this is your situation, focusing on self-care leading up to the holidays can help. Be patient and gentle with yourself, pamper yourself a little and try to relax. Try to have a light-spirited attitude around the holidays. Therapy for family-related stress and traumas is never a bad idea, either. 

4. Seasonal Affective Disorder

With the earlier sunsets and the gray, cold days that come with winter, it’s a given that people feel more down during the holiday season. This feeling is often associated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression. Depression can cause people to be less tolerant of stress and have a shorter fuse than normal, both of which could contribute to feeling tension around family.

When dealing with any type of depression, therapy is always a good idea. With SAD, light therapy is often recommended, as it simulates sunlight and can extend the “daytime” a bit.

5. Financial Stress

A final cause of feeling easily perturbed around family is financial stress, which many people experience during the holidays. Not only do we have to plan for gatherings, but on top of that, there are the financial burdens that go into buying Christmas gifts and preparing for family gatherings. This can be very stressful for people, as well.

Creating a budget and sticking to it can alleviate this and keep you on track. Walking into stores knowing you have a limited amount to spend will keep you from spending too much and later wondering where all your money went.

We get so caught up in the hustle of gifts and get-togethers, and we can forget what the holidays are about, whatever that means to you. The most important thing is to try to just enjoy the togetherness that the holidays allow and relish the moments with your loved ones rather than focusing so much on making everything perfect.

Alyssa Schultz is a family nurse practitioner, registered nurse and lecturer at the Texas A&M School of Nursing. She has a Post-Master’s Certificate in Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner and has experience in primary care, pediatric care, psychiatric care, acute care and nursing home care. 

This article by Alyssa Schutz originally appeared on Vital Record.

Related Stories

Recent Stories