While the holidays can be a cozy time for renewal and connecting with friends and family, they can also be far from a cakewalk. This year we asked our Talkspace coworkers about the things that are most triggering about the holidays. The response to our poll was…impressive! The holidays, it turns out, have all kinds of pitfalls and dangers lurking.
Check out the most triggering topics for Team Talkspace this holiday!
1. Discussion of Politics
After the 2016 election, political tension — even between family members — spiked significantly. According to the APA’s Stress in America survey, “69 percent of Americans say the future of our nation is a significant source of stress, and 62 percent say that they are stressed by the current political climate.” With nearly 7 in 10 Americans significantly stressed about the future of our country, it makes sense heated conversations around politics tend to arise. According to CNN’s 2016 exit polls, a majority of voters 18-44 years old voted for Clinton and those 45+ voted for Trump. Because younger generations favored Clinton and the older generations favored Trump, the chance for intra-generational family disagreement is high. While most of the year, you and your family can go your separate ways, live by your own values and beliefs, the holidays bring everyone together in ways that can throw you into uncomfortable clashes with family whose beliefs you don’t share.
The Talkspace team ranked “discussion of politics” as the trigger they fear most over the holidays. Let’s dive into some tips on how to handle politics during the holidays.
Depending on your situation and relationship with your family members, these options may vary, but here are a few ways to handle the seemingly inevitable conversation of politics.
- Set boundaries before the holiday
Make it crystal clear to family members that you’re not comfortable discussing politics.
- Shift the conversation
Try bringing up a great new movie you saw, an album you love, or something that happened at work rather than let the conversation head in directions you’d rather avoid.
- Politely excuse yourself
A firm reminder is fine, but you can also remove yourself if your boundaries aren’t respected. It’s OK to walk away from conversations you’d rather avoid. If you’re polite about it, your family should understand.
- De-escalate the discussion
If you can’t avoid politics and you get stuck, Talkspace therapist Alan Hunt suggests you should, “Try to listen to your family members without the intent to respond or rebuttal. Listen to them with the intent to let them feel heard and in an attempt to better understand their perspectives.” Even if you don’t agree, you can respectfully do so without starting an argument.
85.37% of Talkspacers feel triggered by the discussion of politics.
2. Judgement From Family
When you and your family don’t share the same beliefs, there is potential for judgement from your family. The Talkspace family expressed a few particular topics they experience the most judgement about, including:
- Choice in partner
While those of all sexual orientations may feel judgement regarding their choice in partners, those who identify as LGBTQ+ often feel this challenge acutely when bringing a partner home for the holidays.
- Having a family
Questions like “are you getting married?” “when are you having kids?” “how many kids do you want” are often asked with good intentions. However, it’s no one’s business and can be stressful to field this topic when there are familial expectations.
- Future career plans
Whether your family supports your career or not, they might question whether you’re planning on going back to school, if you’ve gotten promoted, or if you’re considering changing career paths. Again, while these might seem like harmless questions, they could trigger an anxious, judgmental conversation where one’s choices and questioned.
If you worry about judgement from family, Cirbus recommends that you “make a list of all of the things you learned this last year. Make a list of all of the difficult experiences you had and identify either how you are working through them or what you did to move through them successfully.” Focusing on what you’ve achieved and the ways you’ve grown, can help negate some of the hurtful comments or judgement from family members.
Remember: only you know what’s best for you.
Judgemental feelings or comments often cause problems with family members. Past problems with family was ranked the third most triggering holiday issue.
80.49% of Talkspacers feel triggered from their family’s judgement.
3. Past Problems With Family
No matter how big or small your family is, there’s bound to be some sort of conflict, topic of conversation, or relationship that ruffles some feathers. Family dynamics can be complicated, afterall. While spending time together over the holidays, these topics might come up. Some of the most common past problems with family that were discussed among our teammates included the disapproval of life choices — whether that be a choice in career, lifestyle, or values.
Another stressor that can arise is splitting time between divorced parents. When a family is divided and potentially not on the best of terms, it can be a challenge for kids to please both parties.
Talkspace Director of Clinical Content, Amy Cirbus, PhD, LMHC was able to provide advice for some of these triggers and challenges we might face over the holidays. She emphasizes that “holidays can be really stressful” and recommends that we all should “take time to engage in self-care. You don’t have to commit to spending excessive amounts of time with your family if you find being around them stressful. Instead, set parameters around your time with them and be intentional with the ways you’re investing in activities that bring you joy.”
73.17% of Talkspacers feel triggered by their past problems with family.
4. Returning to Hometown
Both returning to a hometown and the inability to return home pose triggers. For some at Talkspace, home brings a sense of comfort and nostalgia. For others, it can remind them of pain, hardtimes, and family members that have passed. Talkspace contributor Wendy Wisner writes a reminder that you are not alone if you feel this way, she shares that “many of us are in that same place with our families, or have been. Movies, popular culture, and the media romanticize the holidays and what they are supposed to look like for families. But many of us don’t experience the holidays that way at all. Instead, we find the idea of being a room together with our extended family to share a meal incredibly triggering, depressing, or panic-inducing.” One Talkspace staffer shares that it’s triggering for them when everyone goes home for the holidays, because they no longer have a place to return to.
Going “home” or not going home can provoke different emotions for different people, Cirbus advises that you “plan to connect with a family member(s) that you truly want to catch up with. Mentally prepare yourself for a day filled with potential stress and stressful situations. You don’t have to avoid them. Go in with a clear mind focused on the positives, rather than filling up with all of your frustrations. Make a plan, stick to a timeline, excuse yourself at a reasonable hour.”
51.22% of Talkspacers feel triggered about returning to their hometowns.
The holidays are typically depicted as a joyful time spent with family and friends. While this sentiment may ring true for many, those who don’t have a significant other or family to spend the holidays with, may feel quite the opposite. For some, the holidays highlight their loneliness. If your feel this way, Cirbus reminds you that you’re not alone, “A lot of folks can find themselves feeling alone during the holidays.”
It’s particularly triggering to be single when a majority of family and friends are married with kids. Cirbus recommends identifying in advance who make you feel the most at home and to “find sources of support to lean on this holiday season. Surround yourself with those who help you to feel loved and supported.”
48.78% of Talkspacers feel triggered about loneliness.
Setting these boundaries — whether regarding how much time you spend with extended family, how many days in town you alot, or the topics of conversation that you’ll engage with — can have a significant, and positive, impact on your mental health. Additionally, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is common during the holidays, learn the tips to prepare in order to reduce these additional effects and enjoy the season.
Remember to prioritize yourself and engage in self-care throughout the holidays!