Not letting that family gathering overwhelm you


By John Lough

Special to The PREVIEW

The holiday season is coming, which for many can mean family get-togethers. It would be wonderful if every family gathering was a Norman Rockwell-type scene, but, unfortunately, most families are a little less than Rockwell perfect.

If a big family event is approaching, there’s a good chance that while you may be looking forward to it, it may also be producing stress and anxiety. There are a number of reasons for such feelings, but there are ways to lessen that stress.

One common problem is that you’ve changed. You’re no longer the image of you that parents, siblings and other family members may still carry with them. Some might still see you as that little kid or immature teen and find it hard to recognize how you’ve grown and matured. When others can’t recognize all the changes that have made you who you are today, it can be annoying. And it can be difficult in a short holiday visit to really communicate much since often the person still underestimating you is more interested in himself or herself than in learning how you’re now a different person.

Family visits also bring with them family history. There may be old disagreements or awkward relationships that now come up again. Past family arguments or misunderstandings may resurface.

You can also feel stressed that you haven’t met family expectations. Recent job problems, financial issues or relationship difficulties can leave you feeling insecure knowing you aren’t presenting the image or results that the family had expected of you.

So, how do you deal with all this? Start by recognizing that the stress you’re feeling, whatever the source, is a very normal reaction. Next, identify what about that family gathering is making you feel anxious, then plan ways to avoid those anxiety-producing issues. Are there certain situations or people that you want to avoid? Maybe you simply have to accept that you won’t be having a wonderful time with everyone there.

Instead, try to seek out people and situations that will make your visit more enjoyable. Don’t bring up old problems or current issues you’d prefer kept quiet. Your goal is to make the visit as pleasant and stress-free as possible.

And if such a goal seems impossible, consider making the visit shorter or avoiding it all together. Some issues simply may not be fixable. Don’t let old problems ruin the holiday enjoyment for the current you.

“Counseling Corner” is provided by the American Counseling Association (ACA). Send your comments and questions to or visit the ACA website at