This Therapist-Approved Anxiety Hack Is Single-Handedly Saving My Holiday Get Togethers

therapist approved hack holiday get togethers universal

Social anxiety crops up unexpectedly during the holiday season, but per my therapist, there’s the kind you can’t anticipate…and then there’s the kind you can. Case in point: Interactions with my brother-in-law. Name the topic and we have opposite views on it—everything from the Covid vaccine to child-rearing.

This makes gathering around the holiday dinner table stressful to say the least. Topics, large and small, can feel like walking into a minefield—a situation that is ever-more complicated by my parents, who would prefer that everyone just “get along.”

I brought up this dynamic in a recent session with my therapist, who works for Ginger, and he had the best-ever solution to the problem: Rehearse it.

No, the comparisons to HBO’s The Rehearsal weren’t lost on me in that moment, but I took his words to heart. His suggestion is that, for situations where you have a hunch about how a social interaction might play out, take 15 minutes (heck, you could spend just five) scenario-casting the various ways you might respond.

For example, let’s say my brother-in-law shares a parenting opinion I disagree with (a recent one was “boys should be boys”). By anticipating that this is a bit of a rinse-repeat scenario at family gatherings ahead of time, I can work out a game plan in terms of my response. One solution I came to with my therapist: Adjust the seating chart so that I’m not at that end of the table and instead sandwiched between my two chatty aunts, which means I’m less likely to be baited to engage. (The back-up plan: I can offer to wash dishes and exit the room or have a subject change at the ready that’s more benign.)

Bonus points if you include your partner in the role playing, especially if they’re likely to get riled up by the same contrasting opinions. (Hey, it always helps to be on the same page.)

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t engage in controversial topics, it’s more about not letting a surprise and uncontrollable element of a social exchange ruin your night.

The bottom line: Working out a potential response to a stressful moment ahead of time bolsters the control you do have and allows you to keep your focus on the joy vs. a situation that has the potential to derail your night.

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Freelance PureWow Editor