Surviving and enjoying Holiday family Gatherings



By Rhett McKenzie | MAMFC, LPC, NCC


A few months ago, big news was released by The Hallmark Channel that they would be showing 37 new Christmas movies this year. In my family, Hallmark movies around the holidays have become a major point of discussion, whether it is the ladies in my family staying up until the wee hours of the morning watching “just one more,” or us guys adding in our commentary to the movie while watching them with our ladies. If you are like me, you know plenty of people in your life that will be working out their Hallmark Channel movie schedule this season. 

I think many people are drawn to these movies because of the warm, fuzzy feelings they give us, and the hopeful ideals of what our family gatherings at the holidays could look like.

Christmas and the holidays can bring about great excitement and fun but can also bring great stress and anxiety for many. There are many different reasons that the holidays can bring about stress.

For some, it may be a reminder of the loss of a loved one; for others, it is the stress of wanting everything to be perfect at their gathering, and then for some it is the dread of visiting with certain family members. Many people get so stressed over an impending family gathering that their fear ends up becoming their reality. It can also be depressing, knowing a time that should be full of fun and celebration is anything but. 

The good news is there are things we can individually do to help these holiday gatherings be less stressful and more enjoyable.


When counseling clients, one thing we always focus on is “what is it that I can control?,” and not on what others do because we aren’t in control of them. The first step in experiencing a less stressful holiday season is to have the right mind-set. We must always remember the significance of the true reason we celebrate Christmas.

The Apostle Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:2 to, “Set your minds on things above, not on things that are on earth.” Paul is always reminding us to keep our minds focused on Christ, but we especially need to do this at Christmas when having to deal with difficult people or situations.

In my Sunday School class, we often refer to the “Gospel reset,” which is our reminder to love God and love people. We know the time is coming when we will encounter those dreaded situations over the holidays, so we can be proactive and start preparing ourselves mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.


As we are intentionally focusing our minds on the message of Christmas, there are other steps we can take to having a more enjoyable holiday season. To manage the stress and anxiety, healthy coping skills are always a helpful option. Healthy coping skills can be anything that helps you relieve stress in a healthy way, but some essential ones are adequate sleep, diet, and exercise. 

When we take care of ourselves physically, mentally, and spiritually, then we will feel much better emotionally, and our emotional tolerance will be much higher. With our emotional tolerance much higher because of our healthy coping skills and our “Gospel reset,” we can use those attributes in our communication skills and conflict resolution when tension starts to elevate within a given situation. 

One question I try to ask to myself and my clients often is, “What is more important, being right, or the relationship?” For many people there are certain topics that don’t need to be discussed with certain family members of theirs.

What can I control? I can control if I bring up those certain topics, and I can control how I respond if someone else does. When I mentally hit that “Gospel reset” button, I am reminded that Christ calls me to have loving relationships with people, not to be concerned if my opinion is more right than theirs. Again, the Apostle Paul reminds us to “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone . . . (2 Timothy 2:23–24).”


While we are being proactive by taking care of ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually by practicing healthy coping skills and pushing our “Gospel reset” button, there is another area that we also have control over. Setting boundaries is another very healthy and important coping skill. We can control what boundaries we set with ourselves and with others, and we can control how we respond when those boundaries are broken.

There could be an endless list of different boundaries that could be set, but some of these boundaries for others may be setting certain time frames for visits or certain topics that need not be discussed. Some boundaries may be knowing when to calmly walk away from a situation, making sure we don’t intentionally push others’ buttons, and being intentional about practicing one’s healthy coping skills.


Along with our healthy coping skills, we also need to make sure we have realistic expectations.  For many, their stress and anxiety is rooted in unrealistic expectations. We would be wise to keep in mind Paul’s encouragement to set our minds on things of heaven and not those of earth. Remember that perfection doesn’t exist on earth, and extend grace to those around you when feeling stressed, knowing how our Lord so freely extends grace to us. 

‘Tis the season for decorations, presents, and family gatherings. It does not have to be the season of stress, anxiety, and dread; but truly can be a season of fun, excitement, and celebration.

Relax and enjoy the holiday season, have fun with the people God has placed in your life. Be proactive and start preparing yourself for possible stressful situations and be intentional about controlling what you do have control over—yourself. And remember, the relationship is more important than being right.

 Additional resources for other suggestions on how to survive and enjoy the holidays:


relationshipsKate Tedeton