Facing Holiday Festivities and Family

Counseling services: Individual, Couples, Family, Marriage, Group Counseling

Since the start of COVID-19 nearly two years ago, the terms ‘distancing’ and ‘isolation’ have become ingrained in our vocabulary. For many, the holidays last year felt quite different with the pandemic preventing the usual large gatherings of extended families. Fast forward to the 2021 holiday season and vaccines are more abundant, travel restrictions are being eased, and families are returning to their previous holiday traditions.

Some have not seen extended family in over a year and a half and may be feeling nervous about this. Has the relationship changed? What do we talk about? What if it is awkward? These are all reasonable concerns given the situation at hand. So first, do not beat yourself up for having these thoughts. It is likely that many others are also experiencing the same questions and there is no need to feel ashamed. It is possible to both love and care for your family, while still wondering what your interaction will be like after such a long time.

Below are some tips to help you this holiday season when re-engaging with family members:

  • Reach out beforehand.

One way to reduce feelings of awkwardness and make face-to-face communication less abrupt is to catch up with family members before seeing them for the holidays. This could be anything from a text message to a phone call. Ask how things are going for them at work or school and let them know that you are looking forward to seeing them for the holidays. Having some initial contact, even if brief, prior to the holiday may make communication less intimidating.

  • Keep it light.

Bringing up COVID in a conversation has become the new “So, how about the weather?” Though you may be inclined to discuss it, consider other topics when speaking with family during the holidays. Many have experienced tremendous loss and stress from the pandemic and for some, the holidays with loved ones is a time of celebration, positivity, and an escape from the harsh reality of life with COVID. If you do want to talk about it, one recommendation is framing it less as glass half empty (e.g., “COVID is terrible, I can’t believe this is happening.”) and more as glass half full (e.g., “I’m grateful to be able to spend time with you after so long.”). Keep it positive.

  • Ask questions.

Showing interest in your loved one’s life is a good way to ease into a conversation. Perhaps your aunt got a new job since you last saw her; ask how that is going for her. You can refer back to what you remember talking about last time you spoke or new developments in their lives you learned about via social media. Be careful to not ask too many questions in a row, otherwise it may be perceived by the other person as more of an interview than catching up with family.

  • Allow yourself time to warm up.

It is natural to feel nervous when seeing family for the first time in a while. Go easy on yourself and give yourself time to get comfortable. Hyperfocusing on the ‘awkwardness’ of your interaction may backfire and cause you more discomfort, which negatively affects communication. Give yourself credit for showing up and allow time to get comfortable. You got this!

NYCC therapists are here to support you. Please do not hesitate to reach out to info@nyccounseling.com if you would like to speak with a professional.

Written by Gabriella Cianci, MHC Intern