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Tips on How to Survive Holiday Family Gatherings

The holidays are a wonderful time for many people. This season gives you a chance to reconnect with family, spend time with loved ones, and share some joyful memories together. 

However, for other individuals, the festive season is not quite as enjoyable. How do you make the most of the holidays when you and your family don’t always see eye to eye?

Read on for 17 of the best things to keep in mind for your next family holiday gathering!

Be A Good Guest

Even in a difficult family situation, it’s important to remain polite and be a good guest if you are in someone else’s home. It can be difficult for people to adapt if they’re in their own setting, even if they have company over. So try to be courteous and adjust to their ways of doing things.

However, it’s still important to look after your own physical and mental health. If something is an issue, don’t be afraid to speak up—but try to do so politely and respectfully.

Bring A Buddy

Sometimes, family drama can be averted by the presence of an outsider because arguments are less likely to break out in front of a stranger.

So, if you are particularly worried about a family holiday event, try bringing a friend along to dispel some of the tension. Just make sure you aren’t using them as a human shield!

Brush It Off

Humor can go a long way in tense situations. Try to laugh off awkward moments or offhand comments instead of getting heated or walking out in anger. 

Generally, the person does not mean to insult or hurt you, so try not to take things personally and have a good sense of humor about it all. This can also prevent tensions from mounting and causing a rift in the family dynamic. 

However, it’s also important not to make yourself a target or allow yourself to be the butt of the joke. Taking things in stride is different from letting people walk over you, so keep that in mind.

Control Only Yourself

Recognizing that you cannot control all situations or people around you removes some of the stress. 

The only thing you have complete control over is yourself and your actions or reactions. So, you can safely let go of the rest—there is no point in worrying about what you cannot change. 

Decompress Between Events 

It might seem contrary to the holiday spirit, but it’s perfectly alright to limit family time to a few hours in a row. It sometimes leads to more conflict or stress when family members are around each other for hours on end, so keeping activities to a schedule works in everyone’s best interests.

Take some time to decompress and debrief between holiday events to keep your stress levels at a minimum. For example, spend an hour doing something relaxing between arriving at your destination and going to someone’s house. Or, after a large family meal, excuse yourself for an evening stroll to digest your food and let your mind recuperate.

Differentiate Yourself

You are your own person, with individual needs, wants, and feelings, and that’s essential to keep in mind. 

Be a part of your family, but don’t let your family—or their issues—define who you are. Embrace the fact that you are different from your family and remind yourself of how you differ. It might help you avoid getting wrapped up in the drama. 

Divide The Work

If you are spending the family holiday with a partner or spouse, splitting the work up is a good idea. Share the work of planning how to get there, providing food, and even dealing with family drama—a burden shared is a burden halved! 

Drink Sparingly

A martini or two might help take the edge off but beware of becoming intoxicated when dealing with family members. It’s much easier for something to slip out if you have let your guard down, and words can have a lasting impact.

Embrace Change

Families change, and that’s okay. It’s important to prepare yourself for dynamics that might be different from other holiday years and embrace the alterations. Take in the bigger picture and let the rest go.

Establish Secure Boundaries Before You Arrive

Boundaries are absolutely essential to the process of surviving the season. No matter what, you need to establish strict boundaries before you arrive at your holiday destination or before guests step over your threshold.

Sit down and consider what situations you will not be comfortable engaging with, be it certain individuals or topics like politics, religion, or why you are still single.

And stick to your guns with these boundaries! So if you don’t want to talk about politics, then don’t. But try not to be combative or disrespectful in the process. Instead,/ try using deflection or redirecting the conversation. You need to find a balance between being respectful and not allowing anyone to push you past your boundaries because that does not show respect for you either.

Focus On The Positives

There are still bound to be happy moments during the holidays, no matter how complicated the family dynamic might be.

Try to see the little things that you can be grateful for in the situation. Identify one positive aspect about each person around you, and you might find it eases the tension you feel. Hold onto these memories so that you can recall the nice moments with the people closest to you even when the going gets rough.

It’s important to combat what could be an unproductive situation with a positive mental outlook. At times, it can be a true lifesaver to alter your mindset and focus on the good things around you, no matter how small.

Get Enough Sleep

It might be tempting to make your holiday schedule jam-packed with activities and get-togethers but resist the urge to “make the most” of your time off and make sure you’re getting enough rest.

Don’t be afraid of going to bed early and taking naps when you need them. The holiday season is stressful for many people, and getting ample hours of rest is essential to making it through with your sanity intact.

Make Realistic Expectations

Though you might want this year’s holiday season to be different in terms of getting along with family members who might be difficult, don’t set yourself up for disappointment. You shouldn’t go into the holiday season expecting old battles to be instantly resolved. 

Lowering your expectations might sound a bit harsh, but it’s important to keep those expectations realistic to prevent a downward spiral or emotional reaction. Adjust your mindset, prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.

However, this may be a good opportunity to sit down with anyone you might not have the best relationship with and mend some wounds. If it doesn’t happen, that’s alright too. It’s all part of the journey!

Plan Ahead

Being prepared is essential to a smooth holiday with the family. Consider responses you might have to awkward questions or controversial opinions in advance, instead of being forced to come up with them on the spot and risking an emotion-driven reply.

This is also an excellent time to develop an escape plan or prepare by creating a calming playlist, packing your favorite book, or ordering a massage for the following day.

Set A Budget

It can be stressful to think about money over the holidays, with the gifts, food, and travel that often come with it. However, it’s a good idea to set a budget for yourself during this time and stick to it to avoid extra stress.

Simplify the Event

If you are hosting the holidays, don’t go overboard planning and executing the event of the century. Instead, focus on your mental and physical well-being, and simplify the occasion as much as you need to.

Instead of a six-course Christmas dinner cooked by you, why not make it easier and host a potluck where everyone contributes. That way, you can get away with making one dish and sitting back to relax for the remainder.

Take a Breather

If you need to step out of a situation for a moment, do it. Don’t be afraid of seeming awkward if you need to take a breather. Creating physical space between you and the stressor or trigger is essential to gathering yourself and coming back with a clear head.

This can be done by stepping out onto the porch, taking the dog for a quick walk, or even retiring to a bedroom to sit and do some breathing exercises for a few minutes. Only return to the situation when you are fully prepared to do so.

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