Ask the therapist: How can I cope with the pressure of seeing my family during the holiday?

In the “Consulting Therapist” series, I will answer all your questions about mental health and psychology. Whether you are struggling with a mental health condition, coping with anxiety about living conditions, or just seeking the insights of a therapist, you can submit a question. Please pay attention to my answers to your questions in the Healthy Mind newsletter every Thursday.

Our readers ask

Due to the epidemic, I feel that it is not safe to go to my parents’ house for the holidays, but my brothers and sisters and their families are still going there, and they don’t understand my decision. How can I make them understand?

Amy’s answer

It is not easy to tell your family that you will not see them, but it is important to do what you think is safest. You might say, “I don’t think getting together is best for everyone, but I can’t wait to see you again.”

Kind but firm

Holidays during the epidemic are not easy. It’s challenging to not see your loved ones and tell them you can’t see them, and it’s even more challenging when everyone else is planning to party without you.

To explain your decision to stay at home to your family, you can start with directness and honesty and say what you said in the question.

However, it sounds like your family may not simply accept this answer. They may feel guilty when you refuse to participate. Therefore, it is important to have a preset response that will help you know what to say when they try to make you change your mind.

You can simply say, “I know you disagree with our decision. We also want to get together, but this holiday will not happen.”

You can even explain that you can’t wait to get together when everything is safe in the future-if you don’t get together this year, you are more likely to make everyone healthy and able to meet more in the next few years.

Admit disappointment

Your family may feel a little underestimated because you are not attending. Acknowledging that you are disappointed and that you will not be together may help them to see you and feel sad. Saying that you will miss them may reassure them that your absence is indeed for personal safety, not lack of interest.

Provide alternative ways of interaction

Provide a way to celebrate holidays without being physically together. For example, you might ask everyone to have a video chat with them as they celebrate. If you exchange gifts, you may see the other person opening the gift in the video.

You might talk about arranging a special time for your children to have a video chat with their grandparents.

Please also ask what your family thinks. Say something like this, “What can we do to make the most of our environment? I still want to spend my vacation as much as possible.”

Set boundaries and take care of yourself

If they try to continue and try to make you feel guilty to participate, you may need to set boundaries and end the conversation. Say something like, “This is not a useful conversation right now, so I’m leaving.” Then, try to talk again.

Respect your feelings-sadness, depression, anxiety, and maybe even guilt. It is important to take care of these feelings so that you can still enjoy the vacation with your partner and children.

You might come up with a simple little spell that you can repeat to yourself when guilt spreads—for example, “I do this because I love my family.”

At the same time, despite the bad situation, please try to invest your time and energy to make this holiday do your best. You might respect some family traditions and even create a new one or two.