How to Mentally Prepare for Holiday Gatherings – The Hill

history at a glance

  • Holiday events can be stressful and cause anxiety.

  • Not only do people have to deal with travel and weather, but this year flu, RSV and COVID-19 cases are also high and rising.

  • Here are some tips for dealing with the stress of holiday gatherings, including how to respond to intrusive questions.

The end-of-year Christmas festivities bring with them numerous sources of stress and anxiety.

In recent years, more typical family conflicts and scrutiny have been accompanied by pandemic fears, and this holiday season, with COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and flu circulating, is no different.

Psychiatrist Ravi Shah offered some advice on how to mentally prepare for social and family gatherings in a conversation with Changing America.

Plan what will you do if someone gets sick

With respiratory illnesses like the flu, RSV and COVID-19 spreading rapidly across the country, Shah’s biggest piece of advice is to have a plan to treat them. Making changes if someone gets sick can be stressful, but knowing what to do ahead of time can take the pressure off when you’re in the moment.

“It’s hard for any of us to make as good decisions when we feel bad and sick as when we feel healthy and good,” Shah says.

She advises following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and making a plan for how and where members of your group can isolate if they start to have symptoms or test positive, as well as a quarantine plan for people who have been exposed.

A positive COVID-19 test result can be sad or shocking, especially when considering the implications.

“If you end up missing out on something that you were really looking forward to, it can be quite disappointing,” Shah noted.

This plan could include alternative or adapted activities in case someone is unable to fully participate. If there is a way to meet safely outdoors and distanced, that might be a good option.

Even with a group plan for how to adjust when someone gets sick, it can be helpful to have a specific personal plan for what you’ll do if you or someone in your household has symptoms, Shah says. You can list how many rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 you have on hand, the locations of the closest test sites for a PCR test, and any additional details that may be relevant, especially as there may be holiday closures.

Temper your expectations for social and family gatherings.

“The holidays are a time to socialize and be with others,” says Shah. But those meetings are rarely, if ever, perfect, and you shouldn’t expect them to be, he says.

It’s normal to get angry or have disagreements, Shah continues. “That’s all part of family life.”

He says he’s worked with patients who have a sort of “fantasy” that vacations are supposed to be perfect, and if there’s a fight or disagreement, the vacations are “ruined.”

“What we should expect… when you bring families together several times a year is that they are going to have conflicts like any relationship,” Shah says. “The question is not really about that. It’s more about how we handle them.” Moderating your expectations can help give you and your family members a little respite.

Have some answers in your back pocket

At family gatherings, there may be some relatives who are always asking prying questions, such as about dating and marriage.

“We could spend a lot of time talking about why that’s wrong or why they shouldn’t do it, but the fact is that people do it,” says Shah.

He says it can help to think of a handful of answers to questions people might ask. You could think of a way to make a joke about a topic, or simply say that you don’t want to discuss it. For example, Shah suggests saying something like, “You know, I really don’t feel comfortable talking about it. Is everything okay?” The question at the end softens the statement and invites the person to consider your perspective, he says.

Shah says that going to the event with something to say eases anxiety.

“The worst thing is feeling completely caught off guard and then feeling embarrassed on top of the fact that you didn’t want to talk about it. So be prepared, protect yourself,” he says.

Give yourself time to process afterwards

After this busy period, it can be helpful to relax and process everything that has happened. Being introspective and thinking about what happened is healthy, Shah says.

He advises giving yourself the space you need before returning to a busy schedule. Maybe it’s just a cozy day indoors with your favorite hobbies or TV shows. Or maybe it’s treating yourself to meals at your favorite restaurants and spending time alone with your partner or a close friend.

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