How to handle Thanksgiving when there's loss or tension in your family

Hadas Kuznits
November 27, 2019 - 4:00 am
People eating a holiday table.

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Thanksgiving and other holiday gatherings aren't always joyous for everyone. A Philadelphia-area therapist discusses how to handle this time of year if you are dealing with conflict or loss in your family.

Licensed marriage and family therapist Dr. Erica Wilkins says for many people, family get-togethers are difficult times.

"As a therapist, I usually see an increase in my client load as we approach the holiday," she said. 

That's because holidays and gatherings can bring up a variety of emotions.

"They remind us of different memories and also mark the passage of time. But for many people, (the holidays) are reminders of loss and are triggers for those of us who really have tenuous relationships with family members," she explained. 

To deal with these feelings, she recommends thinking through possible worst case scenarios and then preparing for those situations ahead of time.

"Ideas like taking a walk, calling a friend or even leaving town are strategies if there are conflictual relationships in the family," she said. 

Wilkins points out in many parts of the country, the holidays also coincide with days getting shorter and darker.

"And so many people are affected by seasonal affective disorder and so that also compounds these dynamics," she added. 

If you feel particularly vulnerable during the holidays, you also might want to consider taking a break from social media.

"Social media is the highlight reel of people's lives, and social media can reflect pictures and images of what looks like everyone having a jolly time during the holiday season, and so that can amplify the viewer's feelings of loss or grief or conflict in their family," Wilkins said.