NAMI WLA Guide to Holiday Gatherings: Communications Tips

Let’s face it: the holidays can be stressful for anyone. When you or someone you love is living with a mental health condition, the stress can be compounded. We have some communications tips from our team members that can help make holiday gatherings more peaceful.

Communications Tips from the NAMI WLA Team

Understand that a question like “how are you?” or “what have you been doing lately?” can be difficult for someone who has been struggling with a mental health condition.

“Per my rabbi: Wish your friends and loved ones a ‘meaningful holiday season’ instead of a ‘Happy Holidays’ since some people are struggling with this time of year.”—Robyn

“If a topic makes me uncomfortable, I express my discomfort, redirecting the conversation to a safer subject. I might say something like, ‘I am not comfortable discussing this right now; however, I would love to tell you more about [insert new safe topic: ex. my work].’ Additionally, I give myself permission to step away briefly, permitting a moment to collect myself without guilt. There are instances when distancing myself is essential to prevent engaging in a way that could be detrimental to me or others.”—Francesca

“Listen with big ears of YES. Communicate ‘I hear you.’ Show and pour out your unconditional love and support.”—Jamie

“Count to 5 before engaging. Family members can push buttons. It is usually not worth it.”—Adaline

“I remember getting great advice: to figure out ahead of time what you do and do not feel comfortable discussing with people at holiday gatherings. Also, it is important to find a way to deflect or change the subject by being polite. You might want to say something like everything is going well—how are you? Making the conversation about the other person and listening to them is key. Most people will like to talk about themself so this is a good way to take the pressure off of you.”

“When you’re unsettled by a conversation, consider the STOP practice: Stop before you respond; Take a few breaths; Observe how you’re feeling and thinking, without judgment; Proceed with awareness. This practice of pausing before reacting can help prevent heated exchanges and keep you grounded.”—Stef

Some Conversation-Starters to Consider

  • Ask guests about TV shows/movies/books they recommend.
  • Ask guests their favorite accounts to follow on social media for a laugh or to be inspired.
  • Ask guests to share photos of a recent trip or outing they enjoyed.
  • Ask guests to share one thing they are grateful for. You can ask them to write down their answers to share later or ask the question aloud, one at a time.
  • When sitting down to a meal, ask guests to share something they like about someone seated next to them. You can ask them to write down their answers or ask the questions aloud.
  • Ask guests if they want to watch videos of cats or dogs on TikTok or YouTube.

Some Conversation-Changers to Consider

  • “It’s important for me that we have a peaceful time here and talking about something else will make me feel better. Thanks for understanding.”
  • “Thank you for asking. Maybe we can talk about that at a later time. Now I’d like to talk about __________.”
  • “I’m glad we’re gathered here today and would like to steer the conversation in another direction. Have you seen any good tv shows or movies lately? I’m always looking for something good to watch.”

More Tips

Our Holiday Guide: Mental Health Support for You and Your Loved Ones is here.

Community Voices

Do you have communications tips or ideas about how to reduce stress during holiday gatherings? Share your insights here!