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Handling Holiday Stress & Conflict

Advice from Laurel Behavioral Health psychologist Jerry Cerrone


by Kristy Warren - December 11, 2019

During the holidays, extended families often gather together, creating more opportunities for conflict, nerves, and tension. Join us as Laurel Behavioral Health psychologist Jerry Cerrone shares how we can tackle challenging situations and feelings to have a happier, healthier holiday season. 

Dreading the Big Holiday Gathering?

The holidays can be a tricky time to navigate, especially when we’re struggling or anticipate a hectic, trying holiday. While we often look forward to visiting with family, big holiday gatherings can also be a source of dread and conflict.

The first key question to ask yourself is why are you dreading it? For some, the dread may be wrapped up in a recent loss: a death in the family, a family falling out, or a divorce. For others, big groups may be a challenge to their introverted nature and create a feeling of awkwardness around family they rarely see. For many, stress is tied to cost and effort—so much to do and buy, a fear of not putting on the perfect party, concerns over your budget, or resentment from all the planning falling to you with little help from others.

Handling the Holiday Tension

Once you’ve determined the why of your holiday dread, you can proactively tackle your concerns to make for a happier, healthier holiday for yourself and others. If the holiday hustle leaves you exhausted and stressed, know it’s OK not to make it to every holiday party. Instead, focus on how you can connect with those you care about. If gatherings conflict or the idea of a whole day together is too much, try facetiming or skyping with the family gathering for a few minutes to share in the festivity while preserving some downtime.

If cost is a concern, set spending limits, try gift exchanges to more evenly spread out cost among attendees, or elect to give your presence instead of presents—create opportunities for spending time together or give acts of kindness.

Don’t Ignore the Elephant in the Room

If someone has gone through a recent divorce or separation, it may leave you feeling tongue-tied or tempted to walk on egg shells, but don’t assume ignoring the situation is best. Let them know ahead of time that you’re available for support and to talk if they want, but also respect that a holiday party may not be the best time to do so. If you’re currently working through an issue, loss, or separation of your own, it can help to have an exit plan in place should the festivities become too much—be it a quick walk, a call to a friend, or leaving the gathering early.

Loss is another common source of tension at family gatherings. If people are reluctant to talk about the death, it can create the proverbial “elephant in the room.” Not talking about the loss can send the wrong message that you are avoiding acknowledging the person who passed and the pain it’s caused. Instead of ignoring it, try sharing how you feel or offer a listening ear. You may find others are feeling the same, and it can create an opportunity to bond together by sharing stories about the lost loved one.

Conquering Conflict

Previous unresolved conflicts can loom large over family gatherings or company office parties. If a previous family conflict or coworker dispute has you dreading the big day, talk candidly with those involved ahead of the celebration about your concerns. Address the topic directly. Making space for the discussion outside of the holidays can help keep the big event more peaceful. If relatives or coworkers still butt heads despite your best efforts, it may be time to re-evaluate the invitation list.

Emotional intelligence or “reading the room” can go a long way in preventing or de-escalating a family conflict. Stay tuned to how you and your guests are feeling and behaving. If family traveled a great distance to visit, they may need a nap or wind down period before they’re ready for a barrage of questions and activities. Keep a careful eye on things like alcohol intake or competitive holiday activities, too, as it can escalate tense situations in some people. 

Need a Little Guidance? Help is Here

If you or someone you love is struggling with holiday stress, anxiety, depression, or loss, you’re not alone. Laurel Behavioral Health is here to help by providing confidential support and guidance. For more information or to make an appointment, call 570-723-0620. For more information on the Laurel Health Centers, visit


Videography: Andrew Moore

Video Editing: Andrew Moore

Writing: Kristy Warren

Anchor: Lauren Gooch

Correspondent: Rhonda Pearson


Produced by Vogt Media

Funded by Laurel Health Centers

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