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The Pressure of Perfect Holidays: Coping with Family and Anxiety

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

This week, 'Therapy Begins with Tea' steeps on holiday anxiety and includes a body based check-in to help you navigate it.

holiday anxiety & family anxiety

Therapy Begins with Tea is a weekly newsletter based on the themes that come up in my sessions as a therapist who specializes in imposter syndrome, attachment styles in romantic relationships, and our psychological relationships with money. Each week consists of a 'steep' in thought reflection, an accompanying body based check-in, and tea card intentions for the week to come.

'Steep' in Thought (3-5 min)

Dreading the Question

It’s that time of year again. You’ll be told in song that it’s the ‘happiest,’ but, for many, it’s also the most stressful. November and December are months filled with travel plans, music (classy or cliché, you be the judge), flashy lights, hurried deadlines, comfort food, homecomings, traditions, and... questions. Those dreaded questions. The intrusive kind that sometimes come from a well-meaning family member or friend, but other times are just plain offensive.

The Court of public opinion

The truth is that most, if not all, of us have those unanswered questions about our lives -- around family, work, our relationship with our bodies, romance, identity, “life milestones” (heavy air quotes there), who you are, or aren’t, celebrating with. And it can feel like our insecurities are on full display. Like we’re on trial in the court of public opinion -- except court is the kitchen table and public opinion is the vulturous throng of extended family huddled around it.

life is about the unanswered questions

I don’t know what your family situation is, or what holidays look like for you this year, but even the jolliest, Norman Rockwell family gatherings can include these moments of dread & anxiety.

So here’s a gentle reminder: it’s okay to (still) have unanswered questions in your life. We all do. We’re human beings, and becomings, after all; we’re always navigating something. The anxiety you feel is valid and the pressure coming from family & friends is unfair, but being able to separate the dread from the thing being questioned can give us the self compassion to detach from shame and lean closer towards curiosity about what’s to come for us.

It might not be the best move to point out the unanswered questions in the asker’s life -- “Yup, still happily single, Aunt Jo. How ‘bout you? Still in that unhappy marriage & pretending not to be?” -- but if you’re looking for some language to have ready in these moments, look back on the boundaries mini course from the past few weeks. You can find the newsletter archive on my website.

Tap into the full body check-in below to help prep for the weeks to come.

Full Body Check-In (2-4 min)

These check-ins always begin with the breath to cue your body into a state of familiarity, comfort, & grounding. This practice strengthens the association your brain makes between observing your breath and the experience of presence, calm, & introspection to come. Practicing here and now, when you’re not in an activated moment, teaches you how to access this when you are experiencing something stressful, like at a holiday gathering.

So we begin with the breath. A deep inhale through the nose, filling the chest and belly with air. As the eyes start to close, release the breath in a relaxed sigh out the mouth. Notice the feeling of alive presence as you breathe in all that air; feel your body relax and rest as you let it go. Repeat as needed; maybe even stay here.

As you’re cycling through your breath, ask yourself: how am I feeling about the ‘holiday season’? What I am feeling? Where do I feel it in my body?

What am I looking forward to? What am I feeling apprehensive of? Where is it showing up in my body?

What do I need to help me better navigate this time?

Self-compassion? Boundaries? To slow down?

What does my body need & what can I give it?


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