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Holiday arguments brewing? Here’s how to defuse them

0 8 months ago

Ways to turn tempers down a notch at gatherings.

The holidays, as painted by idealists, are hardly the time for disagreements. They’re supposed to be filled with love, laughter, good cheer, and those tiny sparkly lights that make the mood feel festive. Unfortunately, joyous celebration often deteriorates into epic discord when family and friends gather during the season. But you don’t have to get drawn into arguments if you plan ahead and stay alert for potential triggers.

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In many ways, we are primed for holiday arguments. “It’s a stressful time. Buying gifts can lead to financial worries. The weather is colder. Days are darker. We’re trying to juggle work and get time off,” says Justin Gillis, a clinical therapist at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital. “The holidays can also elicit painful memories or make us face unfortunate realities in our lives, such as a lack of family or close support.”

As a result, we are often emotionally vulnerable during the holidays, Gillis says. It’s hard to manage intense feelings, express ourselves accurately, or be open and nonjudgmental.

“When we increase emotional arousal, it impacts our reasoning and subsequent behaviors. So we may be more defensive, or express ourselves in ways that result in conflict,” Gillis says.

Drinking alcohol at holiday gatherings can also fuel arguments, since alcohol lowers inhibitions and makes it harder to remain calm or maintain composure. In a 2021 survey from the American Addiction Centers, 57% of 3,400 respondents said they had at least one family member who becomes argumentative at holiday gatherings after imbibing too much.

Plan ahead to help defuse emotions and arguments

It’s challenging to control emotions in a heated moment. A bit of planning can help you avoid potential arguments or take appropriate action if angry words start flying. Here are some helpful tips.

Set a time limit. If you’re hosting the event, let your guests know in advance what time the festivities will end. If you’re attending the event, tell the host in advance when you’ll have to leave. “Stick to the plan, even if things are going well, so you can end on a high note,” Gillis says.


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