How to Handle Awkward Health Questions During the Holidays

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How to Handle Awkward Health Questions During the Holidays

When you’re dealing with a chronic illness, the joy of holiday parties and family gatherings may be tempered by the idea of having to face a barrage of questions about your health. Emotions are naturally amplified at this time of year, especially if you're not well, points out Ranak Trivedi, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Stanford University and a health services researcher. For this reason, Trivedi recommends preparing for potentially stress-inducing social situations and unwanted health questions. “Being proactive makes people feel empowered in a way that being reactive does not,” says Trivedi, who is also a clinical psychologist.


Before the event, mentally prepare. Think about the people or situations that might cause you stress and run through in your mind how you'll deal with them. Seek out an ally to help you dodge uncomfortable moments. "You can enlist people to help you, so you're not battling this dynamic alone,” Trivedi says. “Tell them, ‘I don’t want to have health-related conversations, so if you see me looking stuck, can you come and support me?’” To keep the conversation flowing away from your health, go prepared with a list of neutral conversation topics, Trivedi recommends.


Another tactic when you face uninvited questions about your health is to try using humor to deflect them, Trivedi advises. Or, when faced with a persistent or nosy conversation partner, feel empowered to say you’re trying to use this festive occasion as a way to get your mind off your troubles. You can turn the conversation back to the questioner by asking him or her about themselves. “It's a way of deflecting that maintains positive feeling,” Trivedi says.


Even if a question borders on rude, it’s important for your own sake to keep your cool. “Say, ‘Thank you for your concern, I know it comes from a place of care,’” Trivedi says. “Even if it doesn't, you've taken the wind out of their sails. You’ve changed the script.” You could even take the opportunity to educate your conversation partner about your illness or not. The important thing is “you’ve gotten through the event in a way where you didn't get frustrated. You didn’t get stressed,” Trivedi says. "The goal is to come out of these settings feeling wellness, instead of illness.” Another valuable piece of advice she offers: “Plan something enjoyable for after the event; that way you have something to look forward to that will help you get through those awkward conversations.”

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