Have anxiety about the holidays? Here’s what a family therapist says about boundaries, navigating tension

This holiday season, thanks to vaccinations, will be the first time some families get together in almost two years. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to President Biden, announced recently that Americans, specifically those who are fully vaccinated, should not hesitate to enjoy the holiday get-togethers with family. This announcement for many is exciting, but after almost two years of being apart and isolated, some Americans might not jump for joy at the thought of a crowded dinner table. 

The holiday season can be a time of high stress, depression and high anxiety for many, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 

As we return home or make decisions to stay put this season, Reckon spoke with Beverley Andre, a licensed marriage and family therapist, who specializes in working with Black and Brown families and women. Andre gives advice on how to set boundaries, make healthy decisions regarding the holidays and navigate potential tension between family members. 

We’ve had a strange, hard two years since the last time some families were together. You mentioned beginning work with your clients on their travel plans as early as September. How are people feeling about the return to our “old normal?” How are people feeling about seeing family after so long? 

There’s no one emotion that is coming up. There is excitement, fear and hesitation. I do have a few clients who have been quarantining solo. The thought of going to visit family members is definitely a hopeful experience, but they’re also scared to hope because of the breakthrough COVID cases. They don’t want to put loved ones at risk. 

Another thing that I have noticed is that people have shifted when it comes to boundaries, as well as compromising. A lot of folks are just not in the business of compromising. There are some people who have family members who are anti-vaxxers, and they say, ‘You know what, mom, I’m not going.’ Many people are reinforcing their personal boundaries out of safety. They won’t allow themselves to be emotionally manipulated.

Yes, so many people have shifted and changed over the last two years. What tips would you have for people who feel like completely different versions of themselves? How can they “reintroduce” themselves to their family? 

I think people need to exercise grace for themselves and for family members. Because it’s one thing to have an experience — a collective experience where everybody is responding to the same stimuli — but how people respond individually is completely different. Your personal evolution does not mean that whoever else evolved with you.

It’s really important to show them grace as they catch up and learn about this new version of you while you do the same for them.

Be aware of your tone, be aware of your body language. What are you really communicating? Is your shock going to be communicated as a bad thing or are you communicating, ‘Oh my gosh, wow. Like that is so dope.’ Many times body language really says more than what you’re verbally saying.

Are there any exercises or questions you can ask yourself when setting up healthy boundaries for yourself? 

I like to have clients do an emotional map. Essentially, they write down the decision that is to be made. For instance, if the decision is going home for the holidays, I want you to write down all of your thoughts associated with going home for the holidays. This is just for you. How do you feel about it? What emotions are you feeling, what are your thoughts and how do you want to honor those. 

After that ask yourself, ‘What are all of the decisions I could make?’ Start brainstorming all of the possible solutions and begin narrowing them down. Once you get down to two or three options, consider the positive and negative consequences of each option. My last question is, ‘What decision do you feel willing and ready to live with based off the positive and negative? Which one are you willing and ready to live with?’

Is there anything else you’d like to say to people struggling with the decision to stay put for the holidays or go visit family? Any last reminders? 

I guess I want to emphasize that a lot of people don’t feel like they have the choice to not be around family. That is a very disempowering thought. They think, ‘I just have to go there, there’s no way around it.’ And I really want to reiterate that yes, you have a choice. It is a choice. You may not like the choice, but it is still your choice to have because there is power in choice.

More reading: 5 ways to shop smarter this holiday season

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