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The great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy once wrote the following words about social dynamics in family units: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” As anyone who has ever dealt with strained family relationships can attest, the effects of having to cope with a toxic family dynamic can be extremely damaging, and every stressful family dynamic poses its own unique challenges.

Health Effects of Family Stress

To some extent, it has always been known that strained familial relationships can be hurtful, but now leading doctors say that such relationships can drastically impact health outcomes in affected individuals. Indeed, conditions such as high blood pressure, depression, and anxiety have all been linked to family stress in recent years. And yet, as the holiday season approaches, many people are not prepared to cope with difficult relatives or even abusive behavior. To withstand toxic situations, however, many of us must learn to keep the peace as old tensions repeatedly arise. Unfortunately, that kind of pressure can often amplify feelings of anxiety.

How Children are Affected by Family Stress

This is particularly true for younger family members: Family stress can be damaging to adults, but its effects on children are often extremely destructive. Even if many of us cannot avoid dealing with toxic family members, in other words, we must often keep the peace at family gatherings for the sake of our children. Now more than ever, it is clear that developing minds can be subject to long-term physical health issues and lifelong mental health disorders when family conflicts reach a boiling point.

During the holidays, in fact, simmering conflicts between adults can have lasting effects on young children, most of whom are unable to understand the reasoning behind long-standing arguments. Unable to separate their own behavior from their environment, in other words, most children will tend to blame themselves for any tension that exists between authority figures at a family gathering.

When Long-standing Issues Reappear

This is not to suggest that adults aren’t negatively affected by family issues either. They are. Indeed, for individuals who have experienced trauma at some point in their past, family tensions can be debilitating in the extreme. In fact, many people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder find the holidays particularly difficult to deal with, and many individuals with PTSD go so far as to avoid family gatherings altogether.

Family stress is never easy to deal with, and the holidays can sometimes feel like an emotional minefield. But, awareness of various triggers can help individuals cope with the fallout of negative family relationships. With a good self-care routine in place and a consideration of how children are likely to deal with additional stressors, individuals with negative family situations can be sure that they will be able to get through the holidays with their sense of well-being intact.