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Coping With Challenging Family Dynamics at Thanksgiving

Many people at this time of year are beginning the ritual of traveling to be with family for the holiday of Thanksgiving. For many, this is a celebrated time for relishing in old memories and reveling in time together. For many more people, it's a highly stressful time when old wounds arise between family members and triggers of old emotional wounds come to the surface.

Rest assured, regardless of which camp you fall into (if either), you have loads of company.

Engaging in a degree of consciousness as you enter this expected ritual can help you navigate the challenges and interactions you will face.

Below you will find a toolbox of support to allow this time to be filled with more peace and growth:

  1. Remind yourself what your triggers are within your family and between family members. When we go into a situation aware of what may come up, we can dilute the degree to which we will be triggered. If you know brother Bobby gets drunk and begins to roast people, when it happens you will not be taken off guard and instead will have a planned manner in which to deal with this.

  2. Have a strategy to take a break when needed. When you feel stress building, go outside, take a trip to the bathroom, do some slow deep breaths.

  3. If the time you will spend together is intensive, ensure you have some other activities planned away from the family. Offer to run to the market for missing ingredients. Put some light music on or a podcast and take your time with chores. OR plan to go for a walk or offer to walk the family dog. Getting outside in nature will reset your nervous system. Think of pleasant reminiscent stories to tell that highlights positive memories within the family.

  4. Bring some beloved family games to focus on. If your family loves charades, get that game going. Keep the game light hearted and non-competitive.

  5. If possible, have a separate space to go to. A separate bedroom; a hotel room; alternate lodging where you can relax and regroup.

  6. Consider taking a different perspective this year. Even in challenging families, there are tremendous things to be grateful for. We often gain our greatest personal gifts through challenging experiences. Ask yourself what happened in your family that resulted in a personal gift that you now offer to the world?

  7. Lastly, during these times it can be useful to think about how fleeting life is. Those who we gather with this year may not be with us next year. Holding this perspective can allow us to be more present, tolerant and less reactive.

Holidays can be both joyous and stressful and recognizing this will most likely allow you to hold space for both of these feelings simultaneously. Creating a plan ahead of time for known stressors and allowing yourself to take space when needed can allow for a more celebratory experience.


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