December 22, 2023

Counsellor Tips: Family Holiday Edition

I'm Ash montgomery
Counsellor & Therapy Dog Handler
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Brisbane counsellor shares tips and Woman with drink and christmas decorations

The holiday season, with its festive spirit and (potentially) joyful gatherings, often brings an additional, less talked about guest to the table: complex family dynamics. As a Brisbane counsellor (and fellow human) I’ve seen firsthand how end-of-year gatherings can stir a pot of mixed emotions. Here are some common experiences we’ve heard from clients, along with tips on how to navigate with a winning combo of merriment and self-compassion.

Self Compassion: A Therapy Remedy for Tense Moments

Firstly, let’s talk about self compassion. You might picture self compassion as bubble bath-y and soft, but in this context it will look a little more active and grisly. Holiday gatherings are ripe for random shit to go wrong: Uncle Bob makes an off-colour joke (hey B, it’s 2023) or you get the same bullshit “Are you dating anyone????” question twenty seven times in a row with no reprieve.

These moments are where self-compassion becomes your best friend (or holiday party date). It’s okay to feel overwhelmed or irritated. Acknowledge these feelings without judgment and remind yourself that it’s normal to react in this way. If you were tagging along with a friend and watching them experience this stuff, you’d have a lot of space and tolerance for their frustration – treat yourself with the same understanding and kindness.

Want some practical tips on self compassion? Click here to skim through some self compassion exercises from Dr. Kristin Neff.

Teenage Drama Queens, Unite

Have you ever noticed how, in the midst of family, you sometimes start behaving like your teenage self? Slipping back into sibling dynamics or youngest kid passenger princess vibes is dangerously easy when everyone’s around for the holidays. This phenomenon, known as regression, is quite common.

You’re not alone if you find yourself sulking, arguing over trivial matters, or seeking approval like you did in your high school days. Try to recognise when this is happening and take a step back. (Sometimes, a step back might look like ducking off for a quick walk with your favourite cousin, or even a quick loo break where you can stare at the mirror and ground into your adult, chill self).

Space will help diffuse what you’re feeling and let you return back feeling more regulated and aligned with your current self.

Setting Boundaries: Get Good at Saying No

Boundaries are your best friend during the holidays. It’s okay to say no to attending every single event or engaging in every single conversation. You’re allowed to intentionally distance yourself from people/things as needed. If politics at the dinner table gets too heated, excuse yourself (see above) or steer the conversation towards safer waters. Your mental health should always come first, and changing someone’s shit opinions isn’t your job.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re vacationing away from home or sticking it out here in the Brisbane heat, remember to ground into self compassion wherever possible. Check in with yourself and engage (or don’t) with intention. Go gently with your teenage self if they pop up for a while. And most importantly, seek joy in ways that are most meaningful to you.

Happy holidays from the Golden Thread Therapy team!

Looking for a Brisbane counsellor?

If you’re in need of support this holiday season, reach out to our therapy team at Ashgrove, Brisbane. We return from break from the 8th of January. Click here to find out more about Ash (Brisbane counsellor) and Beanie (therapy dog).

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