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Make Sure to Pack These 8 Things If Visiting Family Is Hard on Your Mental Health

The holidays can be tough for a lot of reasons, and feeling obligated to visit family sometimes adds to this stress. Maybe your family members ask intrusive questions about your mental health, or maybe visiting your hometown comes with unwelcome memories of the past. If this is you – and visiting family is hard – we want you to know you’re not alone. We asked our mental health community to share with us what they pack to make visiting family a little easier.

That being said, there is nothing wrong with not visiting your family this year. It’s important to set boundaries.

If you are visiting family, though, here are packing suggestions from our community.

1. Headphones

It might be best to keep them in your bag during dinner, but having headphones on hand ensures you’ll have a way to listen to your favorite playlist or escape into a podcast. Go for a walk, put your headphones in and take a few breaths.

“Headphones. I need to be able to listen to podcasts if I need a break from the family conflict.” — Tara S.

“If I can’t block out the world and focus on me, then my coloring book, music and books are useless.” — Halee J.

“I always keep them with me so when I start to get anxious I can put them in, drowning out my anxiety.” — Marah V.

“I have several ‘relaxation’ playlists on my phone that I use during panic attacks or during PTSD triggers. They are my first resort before my medication and the music helps me relax and to block out everything around me.” —  Amanda W.

 2. An Extra Phone Charger

Bring an extra, extra phone charger, for that matter. Having a charged phone on hand means you can make phone calls to your support system when you need to or use whatever self-care tools you have downloaded on your phone.

“My phone charger so I always have access to a friendly outer voice.” — Sherry L.

3. Something to Do With Your Hands

If you’re feeling uncomfortable in a room full of people, having something to do with your hands can be a relaxing way to keep busy while staying in the presence of your family.

“My drawing supplies, it seems to calm me down if I feel anxious.” — Lori T.

“Silly Putty. I play with it when I’m anxious.” — Meredith T.

“Whatever craft project I’m working on, plus a spare (in case I finish the first lol). Crochet really helps me to tune everything else out and be mindful when I’m stressing out.” — Jenny B.

“Nail polish. If I don’t have my nails painted I’ll bite my nail. Instead I can pick at the nail polish if I get anxious.” — Robin S.

4. A Comfort Item

If changing your daily routine is scary, bring something that reminds you of home. You can revisit this item whenever you’re struggling, and it will hopefully bring some comfort.

“A teddy bear I’ve had for years. Something familiar that smells like home.” — Des S.

My favorite pillow… nothing sucks worse than having a tense/stressed day and then not being comfortable in a different bed when all you want to do is get a little rest before starting all over again tomorrow.” — Crystal M. 

“I have a strip of satin from my favorite blanket. A couple actually. Some longer than the others. The smallest one goes everywhere with me.” — Jenna H.

“Fluffy blanket, fuzzy socks… and one of my boyfriend’s shirts if he is not with me.” — Roxy R.

5. Books

Whether you read before bed or sneak in a few minutes during the day, reading a book is a great way to get some quiet time and take your mind off things.

“Books. I get lost in the story and live in that world for a little while when I need space.” — Sierra-Rae C.

“I must have my tablet, which is where I do all of my reading. If I need to escape, into a book I go!” — Courtney F.

6. Things to Do With Your Family

If you’re dreading figuring out what to do with your family, bring something you enjoy you can all do together. A distraction like a board game might be what you need to ease any tension.

“A few board/card games: when things start to get awkward, you can always suggest everyone sit around the table and play a fun game to laugh and be distracted so the deeply personal questions stop.” — Megan G.

7. Calming Scents

If you’re stressed at a family member’s house, a subtle but potentially effective way to get some peace is to have a scent on hand that calms you down.

“My favorite scented body wash and lotion, so I can take a relaxing bath when I need a break.” — Rachael C.

“Lavender essential oil.” — Jessica P.

“All. The. Essential. Oils! Balance, Copaiba, Lavender, Citrus Bliss, Serenity, Cedarwood.” — Diana D.

“My anxiety oils, so when all else fails, I rub on my oil and the smell relaxes my body.” — Evangelina B.

8. Journal/Somewhere to Write

Take some time to write down how being with family makes you feel. You might be surprised how good it feels to get everything out on paper.

“My journal and pens with my blanket… I always have them with me no matter what… headphones to but sometimes I just need to write everything down with no noise cause there is already a lot of noise everywhere.” — Ashley C. 

 “My laptop for reading my old fanfics or writing new ones, comfort blanket (aka binki) & possibly my pillow.” — Rachelle K.

What would you add?

Lead photo via Vera_Petrunina