Coping with stress and family demands during the holiday season

·4 min read

As the holiday season approaches, there will be times when family members and friends will get together. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many of the rules for getting together and it is possible that as people struggle with these uncertain times, conflict and arguments can arise.

This was a topic of discussion in a recent podcast posted by the Ontario Medical Association (OMA), which is urging people to be more tolerant and respectful in these trying times.

The discussion featured Dr. Javeed Sukhera, a psychiatrist and professor, along with Anne-Marie Flanagan, director of media relations for the OMA.

Flanagan opened the discussion by noting at this time of year, the holidays can be stressful for people in general. But this year the holiday season has an added level of complexity because there is advice in some regions of Ontario not to get together. She asked Sukhera to comment.

"I think everybody has needs and everybody is an individual. Some of us deal with stress by going above and beyond. Some of us shut down and hibernate.

Everybody is different and everybody is going to cope in a different way," said Sukhera.

"The loss of the ability to gather with loveds ones, friends and family, is a huge loss for most of us. And that's not something we can take without appreciating and grieving that loss."

Sukhera added that public health restrictions are in place for good reason. He said as individuals we need to decide to how cope with those restrictions. He said it will be important for people to create a sense of connection whether it is with a porch visit, a video call or dropping off a package.

Flanagan remarked that people have to make decisions and choices at this time of year, and that others can be judgemental about that. She asked how families should deal with such things.

Sukhera said we need to be flexible.

"I think about young people who might be struggling with things like OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) or anxiety where they have a much harder time. I think that other people might draw lines that are different from their own. So I think it's really important emphasize and need to be more flexible in our thinking. But also we need to practise putting ourselves in the shoes of the other person and what that takes is the need to step back from the emotionally charged situation and having these discussions at times when our brain is more flexible and open to having them," said Sukhera.

He added that understanding is not usually not going to happen in the middle of an emotionally charged moment.

He said when we give an issue some time and talk about it, it is easier to realize that different people have different perspectives and different interpretations and beliefs thar shape their judgements.

"We also don't have to agree on everything. That's really important. Being able to agree to disagree is an important component of healthy relationships. Be able to appreciate that a different member of the family is going to have a different perspective on things because they have different experiences that they bring and a different lens in which they see the world," said Sukhera.

Flangan remarked that conflict can lead to understanding if people deal with it in a constructive way

"Tension should be constructive because tension is what leads to growth. I think that mindset is really essential," said Sukhera.

He said one form of tension however involves seeing a situation only in part, with a narrow focus versus seeing something as a whole, with a broader focus.

"Because of the moment we are in right now, I think it requires us to step back and think more about the meaning of the moment; what it means not just for us in our small world but for others, particularly those who are struggling in ways that we can't imagine," he said.

Sukhera said there are times when individuals tend to be extra tolerant and kind to others, but for some reason tend not to be as kind and compassionate for themselves. Sukhera advised that it is important to go easier on ourselves

"We tend to be very hard on ourselves. And its being able to forgive ourselves when we make mistakes and to be kind to ourselves and ultimately be the most compassionate version of ourselves with others as well."

Len Gillis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,