Stay in the holiday spirit and ease stress that can arise at family gatherings during festivities and celebrations this season with advice from a West Virginia University Extension Service Families and Health agent.

Stress during the holiday season

“When people come together during the holidays, stress can arise from old habits and group dynamics which can ruin the spirit of the season,” said Eric Murphy, WVU Extension Service Monongalia County families and health agent.

Murphy explains there is a key, mental preparative step you have to take to recognize and react to stressful situations and ‘toxic’ people in your life—not just during the holiday season, but year-round.

He also said that to mentally prepare yourself for stressful situations and people, it’s important to logically balance what is happening in the situation in front of you with how you are interpreting that situation, and then recognize the people who are causing the stress.

‘Toxic’ people

Toxic people come in many different forms and Murphy gives details that show these forms can vary drastically, from a person who puts others on a ‘guilt trip’ or has self-entitlement issues, to selfishness people and individuals who disappoint and discourage others.

Individuals who put others through a “guilt trip” are often the people who offer help when it isn’t requested and make others feel guilty by complaining how it was an inconvenience to them, even if they weren’t ask to do it in the first place.

This can happen around the holidays with those who host a dinner party or when it comes time to prepare the meal or side dishes that go with it.

“Difficulties that come from people who put guilt trips on others can be eliminated quite easily,” remarked Murphy. “You just have to eliminate their ‘ammunition.’”

He explains that positioning yourself so that you can say “no” works best to counter the antagonist. If this type of person offers you something, kindly decline or say you don’t have what they want. On the flipside, if they request something, kindly refuse. This eliminates the problem at its source.

“It might seem difficult or rude to deny this person,” said Murphy, “But in the end is ultimately a kindness to all parties involved to prevent an even worse situation happening later.”

Another type of toxic person that is common around the holidays is one who has self-entitlement issues. This person is never satisfied, even if you conform to their wishes and demands. They point out all the faults of others and are rarely around to help in times of need.

“Self-entitled individuals require a little more effort to derail,” commented Murphy. “To remedy this type of person’s influence, it might require a lengthy, possibly tearful conversation.”
Murphy explains that it is important to identify toxic people in your life and intervene as soon as possible.

“Toxic people can stress you out to the point of depression, heart attack or stroke, or cause other mental or physical conditions,” Murphy said.

Appreciate the good people in your life

But, for all the toxic people in your life, there are many people who contribute to your overall wellbeing, and it’s important to identify and nurture those relationships.

“When I think of the holidays, I think of being around the people I love most,” Murphy said.

He explains there are a variety of ways to show love or give thanks in a new or more effective way to the people that matter most to you.

Sitting in the same room with someone is often considered “quality time.” But, as Murphy explains, quality time is actually a powerful, emotional communicator of love.

“A vital aspect of quality time is togetherness,” explained Murphy. “Not just being in the same room together, but focusing on one another and enjoying each other’s company, like around the dinner table.”
Murphy explains quality time is just one way to express your love and gratefulness to people in your life.

Affirmation is another way which involves declaring verbally to someone that you care about them, or that you appreciate them. It’s important to be careful when using affirmation because some people might think that you are being ingenuous or trying to manipulate them.

Holidays are often a time for gift-giving and Murphy explains that gifting is a great way to show loved ones that you care about them.

“Sometimes gifting can be misunderstood, and seen as a means to manipulation,” commented Murphy. “A true gift is given as an act of interest in the relationship, not as a bribe or to control someone.”

These are just some of the ways to express love for others which are part of one of Murphy’s programs called “The Five Love Languages.” The program is offered by WVU Extension Service to West Virginians throughout the state.

To learn more about Murphy’s Extension outreach efforts and programs, email, or call the WVU Extension Service Monongalia County Office at 304-291-7201.



CONTACT: Cassie Thomas, WVU Extension Service
304.293.8735 or

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