Stress-Free, Festive Get-Togethers

With a little planning, you can survive the holidays

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Does it seem like every celebration this season centers around food and stress?

Those extra calories consumed during the numerous events can add up to tough-to-lose pounds in January. Those aggravating discussions about politics, religion and personal choices can raise stress levels among otherwise level-headed family members (“Aren’t you going to ever settle down?” “When are you two having a baby?”). Plus, there are the conflicting ideas about how to keep everyone safe from COVID-19.

By planning events to enjoy with loved ones, you can eat less and stress less during the holidays since you can focus on the activity.

We’ve asked four local providers for stress-free suggestions for the holidays. Here’s what they had to say.


• “During the holidays, a large percent of the population focuses on the stressful aspects of the season and loses the focus of the season: togetherness with family and friends.

• “Take nature hikes. We have been doing this for years and my kids appreciate the time of togetherness, and the peacefulness of our beautiful natural surroundings. This is made even easier by a group that was formed in the past few years, Outside Chronicles. This group was started by Mike Radomski and inspires individuals to enjoy and advocate outdoor recreation. He is also the creator of WNY Hiking Challenge, a seasonal hiking challenge (with varied degrees of difficulty) that includes trail maps, education and inspiration.

• “Our focus during the holidays is not the food set on the table or the amount of gifts around the tree, but our focus is the activities that bring us together.

— Kim Fenter, doctor of naturopathic medicine, Audubon Women’s Medical Associates, P.C., Williamsville

• “I encourage bringing a change of clothes or shoes to a get-together. You never know what the weather will be like. It’s a great time to not just sit around but after a meal, have a walk, get outside and enjoy the sunshine.

• “You could get together to play games, share recipes or do an activity together.

• “If you are physically active, do something before you go to your dinner but don’t think you have to overdo it just to eat more, like doing a 5K to eat more ham. That’s not always a healthy outlook.”

— Michele Memmo registered dietitian, Nickel City Nutrition, Buffalo

• “Family stressors can be very difficult. When we deal with families, we regress to childhood. People will even sit in the same seating arrangement as when they were children. In some ways, one of the difficult things is to in some ways not get yourself caught up in some of the manipulations. When you find yourself working too hard to engage someone, you’re getting caught up emotionally. A lot of families are expert at engaging people in that way.

• “If you present your boundaries about what you feel comfortable discussing and approach someone in a sensitive but assertive way, they may not respond in kind. A lot of people may not respect those boundaries or get upset. If you realize that in some ways, it’s important that you act the way that you feel good about yourself, regardless of the consequences. We feel good about ourselves when we are assertive and set good boundaries.

• “COVID guidelines is one of the number one concerns couples bring to me. This creates so much tension when you’re invited to a party and you’re the only one with a mask on. There’s a lot of pressure for you to engage with your mask off. Essentially, the big issue is not to get into an argument. It goes nowhere. People who are anti-vaxxers or are against masks, you’re not going to convince them otherwise by quoting research. They will quote alternative research. It will be a constant debate. As a family, you’ll have to decide what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not. I am constantly weighing what the situation is. There’s an increasing number of breakthrough cases where I live so I’m being extra cautious about wearing masks. I’m not attending some restaurants where three weeks ago I was. Families cannot deal with that inconsistency at some times but convey what we’re comfortable with right now. It’s a constant work in progress.”

— Thomas Brent, licensed clinical social worker in private practice at Buffalo Therapy, Buffalo