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Family dynamics during the Holidays: Here's a Survival Guide


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, ... it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, ... we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.” ~Charles Dickens

Christmas and Hanukkah come just once a year.  Thank Goodness!    The Holiday Season is a wonderful time of year! It can, also, be very challenging for many reasons – e.g., the extra errands, gift-buying, food preparation, and family gatherings.

As a Life & Wellness Coach and Family Therapist, I am all too aware of the role family dynamics play in the enjoyment of the season.   All families are unique and complex. 

Each family has its own unspoken rules, assigned roles, and inherited patterns of behavior that contribute (or take away) from each family member's sense of stability and well-being.   In order to make the holidays more enjoyable and less tense, it is important to consider the role you play in your family's dynamics.   You may need to change your own behavior in order to modify the impact your family has on you.

It is important to practice excellent lifestyle habits all year long.  In my opinion, this includes exercising regularly, eating healthy, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, limiting alcohol intake, getting enough sleep, and stress management.   Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be especially difficult during the busy holiday season.   Your plan needs to allow for some flexibility.

If you have not been sticking to a healthy routine, this is not the time to start.  It would be unreasonable to expect that you can reverse old, bad habits  at such an intense time of year.   I am not a proponent of "diets", but,  if you must go on a "diet", this is the absolute worst time to start.  Aim to make some small adjustments, but please avoid an all-or-nothing attitude or a restrictive diet.

Nothing pushes our buttons quite like family gatherings can!  Everyone has their own interpretation of the holidays.  Some dwell on what happened in the past and feel sad ,angry, or resentful.  Some romanticize the holidays and burn themselves out trying to re-create the past or create an impossible ideal.   Still others feel powerless over the effects of the holidays and turn to food or alcohol.   The list goes on.  If we have insight into what is going on, we can take steps to minimize any negative experiences.

First, recognize that everyone has needs.  Your needs are, likely, very different from the other members of your family.  It is necessary to communicate your needs and ask your family members what they require in order to be happy.  This may be scary at first, but it will serve to foster compromise and strengthen your bond.  Be mindful of how you communicate with others.  People are sensitive.  Try not to be impulsive with your words!

Next, identify your emotions.   What are you feeling?  Why are you feeling that way?  Are your thoughts negatively affecting your mood?   Reality-test your feelings and beliefs.  If you are feeling down, deliberately look for the joy around you and develop an attitude of gratitude.  If you are holding grudges, learn to practice forgiveness and let go.   Be sure you are getting enough sleep and eating regularly.  If you are worn down, emotions will tend to flare.

Work on being flexible and maintaining perspective.  Even the best of plans may need to be adjusted.  Life happens.   Be open to other viewpoints and see what you can learn.  Practice having a good sense of humor and going with the flow.   You will have more fun, and others will like being around someone who isn't too rigid.

You may wish to take a deep breath and take stock of how things are going this year. Before the holidays arrive, consider ways in which you can reduce your stress level. Here are some tips to get you started:

Ask for help and communicate your needs


Eat balanced meals

Eliminate commitments that cause you more stress than joy

Manage your expectations

Never arrive at the holiday party famished

Pick and choose the events you attend carefully – sometimes less really is more!

Prepare and plan in advance of the big day(s)



Stick to an exercise routine

Be sensitive to the feelings and needs of others

Stay within your budget

Best wishes for a Happy, Healthy Holiday Season!!

Coach Jenn A. Nocera, MA, MFT, CLSC, CPFT is a Life & Wellness Coach, Personal Fitness Trainer, and Psychotherapist. Contact her to find out how Coaching can help you cultivate the mindset and the habits that lead to a happier, richer life! Please contact Jenna at 732-842-3515 for a consultation.  Visit for a FREE Report on Resiliency.  Gift Certificates for Coaching are available at!

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