HOW TO TAKE THE STRESS OUT OF THE HOLIDAYS--Prepare for family accommodations, family meal planning and family dysfunction with therapists Vincent & Laura Ketchie. They provide tips on how to have a more joyful holiday with your family.

013 Marriage: Stress-Free Family Holiday


In the United States, we seem to go overboard with the holidays.  We want it all.  We want to do it all.  We want everyone (family) to spend time with us.  Like Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, we want the perfect Christmas.  But with these unrealistic expectations, we set ourselves up for not only failure, but a lot of stress.

“Other than loss and loneliness, I think the number one reason people struggle with the holidays is the inability to say ‘no’.”  Laura Ketchie, LPC

Holiday Scale of Stress

  • Staying at someone else’s home or having others to stay at your home.
  • Visiting multiple places in just matter of one or two days.
  • Providing food for these different situations when you are not at home to cook or have the time.
  • Sleeplessness (kids getting up early to see what Santa left, having a limited sleep due to late night parties, etc.)
  • Unhealthy food/beverage consumption.
  • Having to face awkwardness, unresolved family issues, anger, etc. that comes with being with family that you try to avoid year-round.

Staying at Someone Else’s Home

Here’s some questions to consider:

  • Does the host family struggle with boundaries?
  • Will you get a good night’s sleep?
  • Is it safe to stay there? Is it safe for the children?
  • Will staying at their house benefit or damage your relationship with them?
Possible Solutions
  1. Stay in a hotel.
  2. Pair staying in a hotel with some kind of excursion activity.
  3. Limit the amount of time that you stay. (Maybe only two nights instead of an entire week.)
  4. Write down expected boundaries and necessities and share that with the host.
  5. Don’t go every year.

Having Others To Stay At Your House

Here’s some questions to consider:

  • Is this an idea that you want to become a tradition?
  • What expectations do you have of your guests?
  • Food preparation? Who supplies what when?
  • When are you ready to receive guests?
  • Do you have other activities that do not involve your guests?
Possible Solutions
  1. Sit down with your spouse and plan. Write down your expectations and rules for your guests. (Example: The office is off-limits. Bedtime/Quiet time is 11pm.)
  2. Clearly communicate your expectations and rules to your guests.
  3. Ask your guests if they have any expectations or needs.
  4. Write down a schedule for activities and meals.
  5. Tell them that you cannot host them this year.

Visiting Multiple Places in the Matter of One or Two Days

The Result
  • Exhaustion
  • With little children, it is getting them out of a routine which has numerous negative effects – poor eating, poor sleep, crankiness (for the children too), worn down & more susceptible to sickness, etc.
  • More time spent traveling than with family.
  • No quality time spent with anyone. (Just a lot of “Hi & Byes”)
The Solution
  1. Rotate visitation. (Go to one side one year and the other the next.)
  2. Have them come to you. (Invite them to your house.)
  3. Visit one side the weekend before and the other side the weekend afterwards, but neither during the specific holiday.
  4. Just have the holiday with your nuclear family.

Providing Food When You Are Not Home To Cook Or Don’t Have the Time

Here’s some possible solutions:
  • Cook something and freeze it a month earlier.
  • Take shortcuts by buying pre-made food from your grocer’s deli.
  • Agree to be the one who brings the paper products.
  • Stop over-identifying with “what” you bring and put more focus on the “who” you will be with.


Results of Sleeplessness
  • Irritability – snap at people.
  • Headaches.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • More susceptible to sickness.
  • Greater car accident risk.
Solution for More Sleep
  • Extra nap time for kids and adults.
  • Allow for more time to travel. (Maybe leave a day early and stop and rest for the night.)
  • Go to bed earlier on Christmas Eve.
  • Sleep in late on the days afterward.

Unhealthy Food/Drink Consumption

The Holiday Consumption Mentality
  • The more you eat the better time that you will have.  (The same goes for alcohol consumption.)
  • I must eat a lot to show the cook that I liked it.
  • The food is so good I have to have seconds.
  • If I don’t eat Aunt May’s dessert, she will be offended.
The Results of Over-Consumption
  1. You feel tired and don’t have much energy.
  2. System may get out of whack.
  3. You can’t move as well.
  4. If too much alcohol, you may end saying and doing things that harm your relationships.
  5. You model this habit to your children.
  6. You have a lower self-image.
The Some Solutions for Healthy Eating and Drinking
  1. Prepare raw vegetables & fruit as part of meal or to snack on.
  2. Begin making healthy food choices before the holidays.
  3. Have water as an option to drink.
  4. Limit the amount of alcohol available.
  5. Make a pact with your spouse to eat less or stop eating when full.
  6. Tell them “I’ll take some home with me to eat” as not to offend them.

Dealing With Awkward, Unresolved Family Issues

Some Tips
  • Forget about trying to “change” the other person. Remember that you can only change you, and how you react to others.
  • Ask yourself at any given time “How am I making assumptions?” Assumptions and faulty expectations grow like a snowball in an avalanche.
  • Think of the fussy toddler rule. More than likely one of the reasons you feel agitated is that you’re hungry, tired, or cannot communicate your needs in a clear way. Learn to communicate. This means using “I feel statements” rather than the ALWAYS defensive “You statements.”
If You Must Talk About It ...
  • Make sure you are assertive and not aggressive or passive.
  • Before you open your mouth, make sure the atmosphere is appropriate.
    • Both seated.
    • No distractions. Think about your senses. Is there anything that will take away?
  • Speak honestly and directly in a relaxed manner.
    • Begin by using positive statements.
    • Talk about the meat using “I feel” statements.
    • Finish by talking about more positives.

“Being assertive is very intentional.”  Vincent Ketchie, LPC

HOW TO TAKE THE STRESS OUT OF THE HOLIDAYS–Prepare for family accommodations, family meal planning and family dysfunction with therapists Vincent & Laura Ketchie. They provide tips on how to have a more joyful holiday with your family.

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Vincent & Laura Ketchie

Vincent Ketchie, LPC and Laura Ketchie, LPC are the hosts of Relationship Helpers, a podcast where they discuss family issues and interview relationship experts. Vincent and Laura are licensed marriage counselors.

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