Children's Hospital Colorado

Move Past Negative Holiday Interactions with Friends and Family

Three kids sit at a wood dining table with wrapping paper, ribbon and markers on it. The boy on the left is wearing a blue t-shirt, the girl in the middle is wearing a red shirt and the girl on the right is wearing a teal henley and holding wrapping paper on her head like a hat.

For some, it's not so much the food as the stress that makes the holidays unhealthy. We interact with so many people during this time, some of whom we have less than pleasant relations. Maybe you have an ongoing argument with a sister who will be at the holiday dinner or you run into an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend at a party. These interactions, as well as the other pressures of the holidays, can sometimes prevent us from enjoying the beauty, peace and love of the season.

Tips for holiday stress

Give thanks

If you have pent up negative thoughts/feelings for someone you may see at a holiday gathering, make a list of ten things about that person you appreciate. It may not resolve your conflict, but it helps reduce your own stressful thoughts and feelings about that person.


Sometimes we forget why other people are upset. When you are in a conflict with someone else, try to look past how they might have hurt you and remember what might be hurting them and causing them to lash out. Sometimes this understanding alone can diffuse tension.

Learn our tips for teaching kids empathy.

Address negative relations before the holiday

If you have unresolved conflict with family members or friends, call them or meet with them before the holiday with the stated intention of resolving issues before the holidays. It may prevent arguments at a gathering.

Establish boundaries

Setting limits on friends and family interactions can keep tensions from rising. If you know you can only be around some family members or friends for a certain amount of time, plan to not exceed that time (set an alarm on your phone if you must). If you do not feel comfortable having certain family or friends at your home, make plans to meet them in public for a set amount of time.

Increase your physical activity

Going to the gym, getting outdoors for a run, or even selecting a parking spot further away from the store are all effective ways to increase your physical activity. Exercise is one of the most helpful ways to relieve stress and you can get these benefits in a variety of different ways. For some this may be an hour of cardio at the gym and for others a 20-minute walk around the neighborhood. The important thing is creating a doable routine that establishes dedicated time for physical activity in your daily life. Doing so helps build a reservoir of positive energy that will allow you to effectively deal with stress during frustrating or difficult situations. This is especially useful during the holidays.

Learn how even busy families can make time for exercise.

Watch alcohol consumption

The holidays offer all kinds of tasty alcoholic drinks, but alcohol can sometimes make people more sad, aggressive, or obnoxious, which can lead to arguments. Before you go to a holiday event, plan how many drinks you will consume and keep accurate track of them at the event. Have a back-up plan if you over consume and feel negative feelings coming on. (Drunk-driving increases during the holidays so if you are going to drink alcohol, identify a designated driver ahead of time.)


If all else fails, in a moment of tension, stop and take a deep breath, filling your belly with air, then let it out through your mouth. Do this a few times to calm yourself down.

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