How to Help a Loved One With Anxiety and Depression Get Through Family Gatherings


During the holidays, you watch television commercials of people getting ready for a family gathering: getting gifts ready, dressing the kids, everyone in the car, you see the family at the door knocking, and Grandma answers it. She gives everyone a hug and kiss and everyone goes inside to see all the other family members. That’s what people think really happens. What about those with anxiety or depression or both? It is not always like that.

My father lived with manic depression and anxiety. Family gatherings were not his favorite. There were a lot of relatives. Only a few family members knew my father lived with manic depression, but back in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, not a lot was known, so there was a lack of understanding. My father would become anxious about going, but we did go. We never knew if anyone would comment about his behavior, what he would do, what he would say; sometimes we did leave early after something was said and he would end up being hurt. After a while we did stop going. There would always be someone who didn’t want my father there because of something that happened in the past. Even just a small mention of a past event would grow into a huge ball of anxiety, frustration, anger, embarrassment and humility.

Family gatherings are meant to be fun and memorable and are for getting closer to one another. When a loved one lives with anxiety and depression, it can become a stressful event. Things are said and done and eventually the feeling of being trapped may occur, which can result in a panic attack.

When a loved one has anxiety or depression, the anticipation of the event can sometimes be worse than actually attending the event. Thoughts enter your head days, sometimes weeks before the event, wondering what is going to be said or done, how you would react to it, how the other person would react. Then you think of the consequences of it.

Sometimes just the preparation of the event can be stressful as well. If it’s Christmas, gifts have to be ready. If you have pets, they have to be taken care of before leaving. If there are children, they have to get ready. All the preparation has to be done within a certain timeframe and can cause the anxiety to heighten.

At times you won’t be able to control your surrounding during a gathering, but as a loved one you can help reduce the anxiety at any gathering…

Find an ally – if there is a relative who is positive and comforting, go with your loved one and begin a conversation.

Set limits – you cannot control what someone says or does, but you can help your loved one; reassure them it’s OK to say something but know when to walk away.

Bring a distraction – at times, it can become overwhelming. You can prepare a bag with comforting items for your loved one: a book, mp3 player, anything to help your loved one calm down.

Focus on the good – within the anxiety-provoked situation, you need to help your loved one see the good; there will be something positive that can be a calming distraction. You can suggest talking to a relative who has a positive, understanding energy, reading stories to children, playing with animals or assisting with the meal. Doing something positive will calm your mind and reduce the anxiety/depression

Understanding what is happening and having a plan to make it through can increase the sense of control and decrease your anxiety as well as your loved one’s.

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