A Merry – and Healthy – Holiday Season – Tips for Navigating Family Discussions on Health (and Maintaining Yours)

December 19, 2018

Talking about health issues can be hard. Whether you need to share a recent diagnosis or help your loved ones understand your current mental health, it’s never easy to find the right time and the right words. As the holidays roll around, and friends and family gather together, it can become even more difficult to navigate so many well-intentioned people.

If you’re already struggling with physical or mental health issues, the stresses of the holiday season can leave you feeling overwhelmed or out of control. However, intentionally sharing your health concerns helps your loved ones know how to support you, and gives them a sense of what you need.

Here are a few tips to make facing those tough conversations a little easier.

Set boundaries.

Some issues are easier to see than others, but that doesn’t make them open for discussion. Decide what you would prefer to keep private and how much detail you want to share. Experts suggest meeting with your immediate family to set boundaries and practice how to respectfully decline talking about a topic or gently change the subject. This helps your children and spouse know what is okay to share, avoids accidental oversharing, and gives them some tools they can use to support you.

Initiate conversations.

Decide where and with whom you’ll feel the most comfortable. Invite individual friends or family over in a series of early get-togethers (or set up phone calls) to open the topic at your preferred time and place, and help head off any inadvertent uncomfortable questions around a packed dinner table. These conversations will also help friends and family understand when you don’t stay as long as you used to or need to leave early.

Prep your responses.

If certain foods or drinks might conflict with your medication or health issue, plan how to avoid or decline them, and the responses you’ll give if someone asks about your choice.

Plan for backup.

Unfortunately, some family members or friends can’t or won’t respond with the grace and support you need. If you suspect that may be the case, bring a trusted family member or friend who can serve as your advocate if the conversation gets dicey. Speak with your support person in advance and come up with tips, explanations, and even exit strategies. Sometimes avoiding situations is the key to keeping stress levels low.

There are ways you can manage the stress of both the holidays and of discussing your personal health issues at the same time. Planning ahead will help you, your immediate family, friends and loved ones enjoy the season and lower stress all around. Creating a network of support will also ensure you can enjoy the season to the best of your ability, regardless of health concerns.

Intentionally sharing your health concerns helps your loved ones know how to support you, and gives them a sense of what you need.

Sources: “How to navigate difficult conversations about health and illness during the holidays,” U.S. News; “Stress, depression and the holidays: Tips for coping,“ Mayo Clinic; “Home for the holidays: Tips for overcoming holiday anxiety and stress,” WebMD; “8 tips for mental wellness during the holidays,” Canadian Mental Health Association; “A self-care checklist for surviving the holidays,” The Mighty; “Friends can improve your health and well-being, especially during the holidays,” Washington Post; “6 reasons to talk to your family about heart disease,” Center for Disease Control and Prevention; “How to talk to your family about your mental health – especially if they don’t “get” it,” The Bustle; “Time to talk: Talking to your parents,” Mental Health America; “A therapist’s guide to talking to friends and family about mental health,” TalkSpace.

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