‘There’s some hope’: UW psychiatrist on surviving the holidays with family

The holidays can bring up a range of emotions as families who normally aren’t all in the same place come together.

“We’re bringing a lot of baggage into this ourselves,” Dr. Larry Wissow said. “I think it’s also a time when we’re really vulnerable. We’re not in our own space or our own space is being invaded.”

Wissow is the Division Chief of Child Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital. On Monday, he listed three things to help slow down and be present during the holidays.


Wissow recommended practicing mindfulness by preparing for the holidays mentally ahead of time.

“My metaphor for that is thinking about somebody who’s prepping for a long run or some kind of an athletic event and they taper. Can we somehow taper down so by the time that we get to those inlaw’s houses, or the place that it’s gonna be stressful, we’re already rested and we’re actually ready to give back,” he said.


Holidays can bring together a mix of cultures, traditions, and religions. Wissow said to try being open-minded rather than attacking someone.

“We may have brought a partner to a Christmas celebration who doesn’t celebrate Christmas, who comes from a faith tradition that doesn’t recognize Christmas as a holiday even,” he said. “And if that person is being attacked, and especially if it’s our partner, that’s a really big dilemma.”

Wissow said someone can also be compassionate by being a good listener.

“You don’t have to listen to somebody’s rants about their political thing but we can pick out something in the room, we can pick out something that they’re wearing and ask them to tell a story about it,” he said.

He said not only does that bring them into a positive space, but you might learn something new.


Wissow also brought up being grateful even if things are difficult with your family.

“You can be grateful you actually have a family to be with,” he said. “Many people don’t, or they’re so estranged, or they’re so far away, or their family is trapped in a terrible conflict zone somewhere in the world and at least you’re here and there’s some hope.”

Overall, Wissow said to take a breath and think things through before you react.

“Maybe this is the time to let most things just fly by, put off the convincing for another day, and appreciate the quirky diversity of these people you call family,” he said.