Does the thought of spending time with extended family this summer stress you out? If you’re like most families, you’ll have at least a few larger family gatherings this summer. Much like the end and beginning-of-the-year holidays, summers are a popular time for get-togethers with extended family members after all.

In her Psychology Today article entitled How to Have Family Gatherings with Less Stress and More Joy, F. Diane Barth L.C.S.W. shares the following:

“Are you excited about seeing family? Or are you worried about picking up where you left, rehashing old, familiar arguments, and struggling with a lifetime of dysfunctional interactions?”

Hopefully, you find yourself in the first group. You have at least a reasonably positive history regarding family gatherings, whether that includes your family of origin or in-laws. And you feel mostly happy about getting together with extended family. Still, that isn’t the experience of many who’ll spend time with family this summer.

You may go through acute stress as these events approach or feel a knot in the pit of your stomach when you think about them. Here are some ideas if you’re wondering how to relieve stress when hanging out with family this summer.

Try Identifying What Causes Your Stress Symptoms

Life can get busy, and before you know it, you’re rushing off to another summer family gathering and feeling bad about that fact even before you arrive. You could be on your way to a wedding, family reunion, or everyday family get-together.

Perhaps you’ve yet to identify why you feel apprehensive or, in some cases, downright miserable before your visits. After all, life doesn’t always make it easy to process unhappy emotions or symptoms of stress in our lives.

Even so, try to figure out what causes you stress and anxiety regarding family gatherings. There likely are several reasons why and they aren’t necessarily because your extended family or in-laws are uniquely toxic or terrible to hang out with. Here are a few of the many possibilities.

You’re Tired and Busy—Especially if you have young kids, visiting relatives can be a significant time and energy commitment. That’s all the truer if you’ll be staying overnight with extended family. You may already be maxed out in other life areas, and family get-togethers can seem like one more obligation even though, deep down, you know it shouldn’t feel that way. It’s nothing personal—you’re just stretched too thin, making it tough to feel good about family get-togethers.

Different Parenting Styles—When kids are involved, different parenting styles between families and siblings can lead to friction. This is also a common contention point between the parents and grandparents of young children when differences in opinion arise about how best to raise the kids. You may worry you’ll be judged harshly for your choices that differ from others’ parenting styles. That could be based on personal insecurities, past negative experiences, or a little bit of both.

You Could Be Depressed—Depression can increase the desire to isolate, making the prospect of a social event like family get-togethers feel overwhelming. The increased fatigue and negative view of yourself and others that goes along with depression make matters all the more challenging too.

Fear of Not Fitting In—Of all the places in the world, you want to feel accepted in extended family settings, whether that involves your family of origin or in-laws. It’s so ironic and sad when this doesn’t happen. When you hang out with family and regularly don’t feel accepted, that stings like few things can. If this is a common experience for you, it can eventually become tough to want to attend family gatherings.

Family Toxicity—As Barth shared earlier, family dysfunction and toxicity can and do happen. When disagreements go unresolved, these skirmishes can commence anew once you get together again, leading to further hurt among family members.

Although you don’t want to spend too much time fretting about family dynamics, getting to know yourself and why you feel how you do can lead to useful coping strategies. Once you understand what specifically bothers you about family gatherings, you’ll better know how to reduce stress more effectively. Here are some additional ways to manage stress in these settings.

Additional Ideas for Managing Stress During Summer Family Gatherings

Keep Reasonable Expectations: Barth’s primary focus in her article is on setting reasonable expectations of how your family get-together will go. By not beginning with overly idealistic expectations, what happens, in reality, won’t feel so much like a crash landing.

Think about past extended family get-togethers and how they went. Then, realize this time together will likely go similarly to previous ones. No, you likely won’t find near-utopian family unity after years of the opposite. But remembering how previous gatherings went will help you plan specific ways of handling setbacks.

How do you navigate a nagging mother-in-law, politically extreme uncle, or sister who wants to play “who’s the best parent?” Think about what usually happens and plan accordingly. This could involve peaceable avoidance measures while together. It also likely will include setting some boundaries to let others into your life in a safe way.

Unified Front: If you’re going to an event as a couple, discuss your family-gathering strategy ahead of time so you’re on the same page. Especially if toxic dynamics are commonly involved, presenting a united front will help you avoid others’ attempts to pit you against each other as a couple.

Limiting the Time: Remember there’s an optimal amount of time to spend with extended family, even if you mainly have a positive experience when you’re together. After that, the quality of your time together tends to decline. However, if you mostly experience neutral or negative interactions, consider cutting your visit shorter to protect your mental and emotional health. In more extreme cases, it may even be best to avoid family gatherings for a while and reassess the situation later.

Need Some Proven Stress Management Techniques? Consider Counseling

Summer family gatherings can be a meaningful and encouraging experience as you connect with others close to you who you haven’t seen in a while. At the same time, mingling with extended family can uncover old, unresolved emotional wounds or create new ones.

Through counseling, you can work through what stresses you out about family and discover practical ways to handle extended family stress. Please get in touch if you’d like to learn more about how the Orange County Relationship Center can assist you with stress and anxiety relief. You’re also welcome to schedule an appointment with us at your convenience.