Surviving the Holidays with Joy


“We’re supposed to be having fun, why are we fighting so much?”


The holidays – a time for family and food and presents and prayer and fun and…fights?  Unfortunately along with your other guests the December holidays often bring a familiar but unwelcome visitor – stress, and her twin sister conflict.  There are a number of good reasons why this time of year can be tough on relationships:

  • With reduced sunlight many of us are prone to seasonal depression that makes it harder to cope with stress in general and holidays in particular
  • Less outdoor exercise leads to less serotonin which again can bring on depression
  • We experience “anniversary” depression related to remembering past holidays and loved ones who are no longer with us
  • Somehow reality never seems to match our expectations and the feeling of let down can lead to a search for someone to blame – all too often our partners and other family members
  • Time with families can restimulate old wounds and painful memories
  • We can drive ourselves (and our partners) crazy trying to create the perfect holiday and pushing ourselves to live up to our own (or our family’s) expectations.


So what can we do to reduce stress and conflict and ensure a wonderful time together?  Of course there is no one size fits all solution but the following suggestions may be useful:


  • Try to keep up your usual exercise routine – you will sleep better, feel better and keep depression at bay
  • Get outside in the sunlight and fresh air as much as possible
  • Avoid overeating, especially sugar.  This will also help you feel better and reduce the shame that often comes when we indulge too much.
  • Keep alcohol consumption down – alcohol is a depressant.
  • Dialogue with your partner about your hopes, dreams and expectations for the holidays (see sample holiday dialogue for ideas)
  • Talk together about what really matters to you and what you can let go of if time and energy run short
  • Be realistic about expectations both of yourself and your family
  • Be realistic about how family interactions are likely to go (i.e. “we know Dad’s going to tell the same story 10 times” , or “we know Aunt Mary will criticize your cooking”)
  • Keep your eye on the prize – remember what is most important to you and try to stay focused on that, letting go of the small irritations that ten years from now you won’t remember.
  • Be especially gentle and loving with yourself and your partner – take special time together to reaffirm your love.

Posted by Laura

Laura Marshall, LCSW, is the founder and director of the Sagebrush Center for Relationship Therapy. Her experience spans thirty years of supporting couples and individuals to create healthy and meaningful lives and relationships. She is also adjunct faculty for the New Mexico Highlands School of Social Work. She lives with her husband Steve and five sons in Farmington, New Mexico.

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