Gallup’s U.S. Mood Index shows that the two biggest USA holidays — Thanksgiving and Christmas Day — are two of the happiest days of the year. In 2013, 70 percent and 64 percent of respondents, respectively, said they felt a lot of happiness and little worry each day. But on an average day during the rest of the year, 48 percent reported feeling a lot of happiness and little stress. But what makes our holidays happy? A Pew Research Center survey from the same year asked Americans what they like most about the season. Being with people they care about tops their lists (and it’s at the top of mine). Sixty-nine percent of people said they most enjoy time with family and friends.
So why would we even consider going to counseling during the holidays? Because, as you likely already know, not everyone feels the same way about the holiday season and spending time together. Some people dread going to family functions due to past conflicts with family members; others may find it stressful due to social pressures or current dysfunction and communication issues between family members. Add in a touch of stress due to financial stressors due to travel costs and presents- and boom, you have a powder keg ready to go off.
While we may be biased, we think that family counseling is a wise choice at any time of the year, but especially prior to and during the holiday season.
Reasons People Stress Out About Visits With Family
A caveat: this list can never be comprehensive, because there are too many reasons that people could stress about family interactions. But it’s clear that there are some strong, common reasons that people stress about family get-togethers. Quoting from Popular Science:
So why do we get stressed about seeing family, and around the holidays in particular? Expectations are one of the biggest reasons—we watch Christmas specials or remember celebrating Thanksgiving as children and anticipate a Rockwellian experience, but, often, that’s simply not a reality. “We think this should be a perfect time, the food will be perfect, and our conversations will be respectful. But when our realities don’t match that, we get frustrated,” Orbuch says. The holidays can also be a time where we’re reminded of what we don’t have, Regan adds, further highlighting the celebration’s non-idyllic qualities.
Sometimes those realities don’t match up to fantasy simply because we’re human. Grandma may no longer be capable of cooking an entire feast on her own, even if she wants to; relatives’ unpleasant or grating behavior doesn’t cease on holidays, despite their best efforts. In most cases, we’re just not capable of creating that Rockwellian ideal. And these days, that picture of the happy nuclear family is even further from our experience. More people have more complex family structures—parents divorce and remarry, families blend—and as a result, traditions clash. Those traditions are deeply rooted in our religion, identities, and childhoods—in short, they are emotionally charged, and celebrating holidays in a new way can bring its own form of disappointment and tension.
Family Counseling To Combat Stressful Holidays
Family counseling can help your family come to terms with what the holidays mean for you all. By engaging with counselors prior to and during the holidays, your family will have the opportunity to talk about stressors, triggers, and more. You’ll be able to explore coping strategies for painful topics (politics, divorces, etc) and dialogue with an impartial third party – your licensed therapist.