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Navigating The Holidays: Coping Strategies For Dealing With Family Tension And Conflict 

Ahhh, the Winter Holiday season—that joyous time of the year when we come together in our highly functional families to enjoy togetherness! Ha.  

If this sounds like a joke, this blog is for you.  

While the holiday season is often depicted as a time of joy, unity, and merriment, it can also serve as a source of stress for many individuals and families, evoking painful memories and stirring up unresolved conflicts. Coping with family tension and conflict during this period can be a daunting task. However, it’s important to realize you’re not alone in facing these challenges.  

In this blog, we will delve into evidence-based coping strategies designed to empower you to move from struggle to strength.  

Understanding Family Tension And Conflict 

 Family conflict and tension often manifest in various ways during the holiday season, stemming from past experiences, lingering unresolved issues, and disparities in values and beliefs. It is of importance to recognize the authenticity and significance of these challenges. Psychotherapy research underscores the potential for growth and healing when we take the first step of acknowledging and addressing family conflicts, both past and present. By accepting and delving into the complexities of family dynamics and past conflicts, individuals and families can pave the way for improved mental well-being and the restoration of family relationships (Buehler, 2020). 

Coping Strategies 

1. Self-Care

Taking care of your mental and emotional well-being becomes especially important during the holiday season when family tensions can run high. Research has consistently demonstrated the powerful impact of self-care practices on reducing stress levels (Creswell et al., 2015). To delve deeper: 

  • Mindfulness Meditation: Mindfulness meditation is a transformative practice that encourages individuals to immerse themselves fully in the present moment. This technique entails focusing your attention on your breath, bodily sensations, or the immediate environment, fostering a heightened awareness of your thoughts and emotions without judgment. Mindfulness not only offers respite from stress but also holds the potential to bolster your emotional regulation and resilience, rendering it an invaluable tool for coping with family tension and conflict during the holiday season. As you embark on your mindfulness journey, consider starting with short daily sessions, perhaps dedicating just 7 minutes each day. This gentle introduction allows you to gradually cultivate mindfulness and experience its full array of benefits. Over time, as you extend the duration of your mindfulness sessions, you’ll likely discover an increased ability to feel more centered and composed in the face of stressors, ultimately fostering a greater sense of inner calm and emotional strength. 
  • Regular Exercise: Research shows that regular exercise not only reduces stress but can also stimulate the release of endorphins, the body’s natural mood lifters (Rebar et al., 2015). Explore various forms of physical activity to find what brings you joy, whether it’s yoga, walking, dancing, or hitting the gym. 
  • Adequate Sleep: Inadequate sleep can leave you more vulnerable to stress and emotional reactivity (Walker, 2017). Creating a bedtime routine and ensuring quality sleep can significantly impact your emotional well-being. Make sleep hygiene a priority by limiting screen time before bed and creating a calming environment in your bedroom. 
  • Joyful Activities: Beyond self-care practices, focus on identifying activities that genuinely bring you joy and relaxation. These moments of indulgence serve as emotional refuges during the holiday season. Dedicate time to activities that nourish your soul and provide an escape from family conflicts. 

2. Set Realistic Expectations

Unrealistic expectations can often set the stage for disappointment and added stress during the holidays. Research indicates that adjusting these expectations can lead to a more positive holiday experience (Grzywacz et al., 2002). To expand on this: 

  • Embrace Imperfections: Understand that perfection is an elusive goal. Embrace the imperfections and quirks that make your family unique. Instead of striving for an idealized version of the holidays, focus on the genuine moments of connection and joy that naturally occur when people come together. 

3. Effective Communication

Effective communication is the cornerstone of resolving family conflicts, and research highlights its importance (Gottman, 2015). Building on this: 

  • Use “I” Statements: “I” statements allow you to express your feelings without blaming others. For instance, say “I feel hurt when…” instead of “You always make me feel hurt when…”. This shift in language can foster a more open and non-confrontational dialogue. 
  • Active Listening: Active listening is a skill that can promote empathy and mutual respect within your family. When someone is speaking, genuinely focus on what they are saying, ask clarifying questions, and avoid interrupting. This practice can lead to better understanding and conflict resolution. 

4. Understanding Emotional Triggers: 

Understanding and navigating emotional triggers within the family dynamic is a crucial aspect of managing family tension and conflict during the holidays. Research has highlighted that emotional triggers often stem from past experiences and unresolved emotions, impacting our reactions to present-day situations (Etkin et al., 2015). In the context of family gatherings, acknowledging these triggers is a vital step toward personal growth and conflict resolution. It’s essential to approach these triggers with self-compassion, recognizing that they are valid responses to your history and circumstances. Mindfulness, as previously discussed, can be a valuable tool in identifying and managing these triggers. By cultivating self-awareness and staying present in the moment, you can gain better control over your emotional reactions. Additionally, seeking support from a trained counselor can provide you with tailored strategies to navigate and heal from these triggers effectively. Remember that understanding and addressing emotional triggers is a transformative journey towards healthier family relationships and improved mental well-being during the holiday season and beyond. 

5. Boundaries

Establishing clear boundaries is essential for safeguarding your emotional well-being, a principle reinforced by the research of Cloud and Townsend (2017). These boundaries are like protective emotional shields, offering defense against undue stress and discomfort that may arise from family dynamics. It’s essential to embrace a proactive stance by calmly and assertively communicating your boundaries to your family. By openly expressing which behaviors or topics are considered off-limits, you not only protect your own emotional wellbeing but also create an atmosphere where respect and understanding can flourish. This approach serves as a powerful preventive measure, averting unnecessary conflicts. 

6. Seeking Personalized Support

Seeking professional counseling is a valuable and well-supported option when family tension and ongoing conflict prove overwhelming. Extensive research, as highlighted by Miller and Rollnick (2013), consistently underscores the favorable influence of therapy on both family relationships and mental health outcomes. Further emphasizing this point, professional counselors offer customized guidance, providing tailored strategies and support. Through counseling sessions, individuals are provided with a secure and confidential environment to delve into their emotions, cultivate effective coping mechanisms, and collaboratively address family conflicts and tension in a constructive and healing manner. 

All of these coping strategies are not just isolated practices but can be integrated into a holistic approach to managing family tension and conflict during the holidays. By prioritizing self-care, adjusting expectations, improving communication, understanding emotional triggers, setting boundaries, and seeking professional support when needed, you can navigate the holiday season with a bit of extra resilience…and maybe even find some connection in the process.  


The holiday season can be challenging, especially when dealing with family tension and conflict. At Love This Therapy, we offer individual, couples and family counseling services to help you navigate these challenges effectively. Our experienced clinical counselors use evidence-based techniques to support your healing and growth. Start with a free 15 to 20-minute discovery call to discuss your needs. Reach out to us at 604.229.4887 or to book an appointment. We’re here to support you during this holiday season. 


  • Buehler, C. (2020). Family Process, Conflict, and Well-Being. Annual Review of Psychology, 71, 141-166. 
  • Creswell, J. D., Lindsay, E. K., & Aldao, A. (2015). Current Opinion in Psychology, 3, 108-113. 
  • Grzywacz, J. G., Almeida, D. M., & Neupert, S. D. (2002). Journal of Marriage and Family, 64(4), 974-986. 
  • Gottman, J. M. (2015). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Harmony. 
  • Etkin, A., et al. (2015). Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 19(2), 51-60. 
  • Cloud, H., & Townsend, J. (2017). Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life. Zondervan. 
  • Rebar, A. L., et al. (2015). Health Psychology, 34(9), 919-928. 
  • Walker, M. P. (2017). Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. Scribner. 
  • Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (2013). Motivational Interviewing: Helping People Change (3rd ed.). Guilford Press. 

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