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Home for Easter? Here's how to avoid those inevitable fights with family

Spending time with family you don't often see can be stressful — especially if you disagree on politics.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

Pink Easter egg cracked open and broken into pieces. Family holidays like Easter can be stressful. Here's how to avoid fighting with your family. (Getty)
Family holidays like Easter can be stressful. Here's how to avoid fighting with your family. (Getty)

Easter long weekend is here — and so are elevated stress levels.

A 2022 survey from the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) found more than half of Canadians find holiday seasons to have a negative impact on their mental health, with 52 per cent reporting they have increased feelings of anxiety and depression.

While there are many factors that play into this — stress around finances, isolation, worries about hosting the perfect get-together and unease around alcohol during that time, there seems to be a universal throughline for many: family dynamics. With families planning to get together again for Easter, these patterns are just as prevalent.

Winnipeg-based therapist Olivia Assuncao sees an increase in requests for services as clients return home to families where they may have complicated dynamics and feelings.

"Our families of origin can do a real number on us emotionally," Assuncao told Yahoo Canada in a previous interview. With people potentially feeling like they're being sucked back into playing the role of the kid when they're back home, "we're fighting all these ghosts at the same time we're trying to create new relationships as adults with our parents and siblings," she said.

As joyful as the holiday season can be, "[there can be a lot of] feeling neglected, feeling like the problem child or you're the scapegoat," Assuncao said. "That includes having different opinions politically."

That's why it's important for people to acknowledge this stress and be kind to themselves. Below, some tips for surviving the Easter weekend with your mental health — and family unit — intact.


How can I have a conversation and not ruin family dinner?

Young african american woman with afro hair wearing bunny ears over pink background crazy and mad shouting and yelling with aggressive expression and arms raised. Frustration concept.
Pass the stuffing — hold the politics. (Getty)

If you're heading into a family situation that you expect may be testy, New Brunswick-based social worker Marie Michelle Mekary suggested going in well-informed.

"I always tell [clients], try to know who's going to be at the supper," Mekary told Yahoo Canada.

And not only that, but Mekary suggested being prepped on your boundaries. "I always work on limits and boundaries [with clients]. If they're not comfortable with a topic, I practice with them in-session how to say 'Hey, can we change the topic? I'm not comfortable with this," Mekary said. "The minute you're capable of recognizing how to set limits and boundaries, that will avoid having conversations end with an argument."

Once you're down in the nitty-gritty of the convo, Assuncao recommended being direct and using "I" statements. For example, "I feel this way when you talk like that," or "I'm not disagreeing with your opinion, but it impacts me this way when you talk like that," she said.

The minute you're capable of recognizing how to set limits and boundaries, that will avoid having conversations end with an argument.Marie Michelle Mekary

"If you love the person, letting them know 'I love you, I really care about you, we have this thing between us and how do we get around to be closer again?'" Assuncao added.


What can I do to avoid certain topics at family events?

When it comes to avoiding certain topics altogether — whether it's your recent breakup or which political party is currently in power — both Mekary and Assuncao advised directing conversation away from a subject that might land you in hot water. "It might be very obvious distractions, but I would use stuff like: 'So what else is happening in your life? How's work? How are the kids?,'" Assuncao said.

If you're in a big group of people, Assuncao advised not responding if someone drops an etiquette bomb or says something offensive. Not only can it be essential for your own mental health to not engage, but it may also cause the person to have to sit in their comment and realize that it isn't a shared point of view.

"Give yourself permission to not have to be the person that's correcting the thing that someone else is doing," Assuncao said. "You don't have to be on top of monitoring everybody's beliefs; they're allowed to have them and we're allowed to not get mad about it."


How can I keep calm when debating with that third uncle on my dad's side?

Learning how to cope with annoying conversations can help you feel more relaxed. (Getty) Easter bunny talking together, rabbits have a conversation, spring holiday greeting card with speech bubbles
Learning how to cope with annoying conversations can help you feel more relaxed. (Getty)

For the inevitable moment someone in the family gets really heated, Assuncao said perception is key.

"A good reminder is none of it is personal to you," Assuncao said. "Just keep in mind this is a reflection of what's happening for this person, it's not a reflection of your relationship or your value or the value of your opinions."

Utilizing coping mechanisms like breathing exercises can also be helpful, and if you need to remove yourself from the situation — do so. "Tell them, 'I'm just going to the washroom, I'll be back in two or three minutes,'" Mekary advised. "So it's not really avoiding [the situation], it's a coping mechanism in order to self-regulate and be able to keep your environment calm."


How can I decompress after time with my family?

Once your family event has wrapped up, you may be looking to relax and indulge in some self-care to reconnect with yourself, something Mekary says is very important to do.

This may mean physical activity like going for a run or playing tennis with a friend, it could be practicing that new hobby you're getting into, or booking a well-deserved massage. "[Anything] that will allow [you] to reconnect with [yourself] and also regulate your emotions again."

To ensure you're taking the time for yourself, Assuncao advised physically scheduling downtime into your calendar, even if it's just sitting in your PJs on the couch for four hours on Easter morning.


So, do I have to attend family events?

Easter chickens standing in rows with odd one out on pink background. Taking care of your mental health is important, so don't feel pressured to attend stressful events. (Getty)
Taking care of your mental health is important, so don't feel pressured to attend stressful events. (Getty)

Short answer: No. As difficult as it may be, engagement with your family can be as limited, or involved, as you need it to be.

"The most important thing [for adults], if you have a family that's super toxic, is making the point of 'OK, we're only going there for appetizers, so we're going to be there for an hour and a half to three hours max,'" Assuncao said. "The plan is you're only there for a period of time because you want to make an appearance, but also don't want to get yourself lit up in some of the conversations."

Ultimately what's most important is taking care of your mental health — because that affects everything else around you. "If you don't take care of your mental health, in the long run it will affect you physically," Mekary said. This can include physical symptoms like headaches, an increase in heart rate, or anxiety attacks. "Taking care of your mental health will prevent, in the long run, physical symptoms and depression."

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