Survival Skills: How to Enjoy the Holidays with Family

mentalhealth wellness

While the holidays typically stir up festive emotions and a desire to come together to share good times and make memories, when it comes to gathering with your family, it might not be a blissful experience.

Who’s still holding a grudge from 5 years ago and just waiting to re-hash it? 

Which relative is going to say something so mortifying you’re re-thinking bringing your date?

Are you afraid to leave the room because you know that’s when they’ll start talking trash about you?

Which one will get drunk and cause a ruckus?

If any of the above sound familiar, I’m sure you have others to add.  But does it have to go down like it’s been or is there something you can do to avoid, or at least reduce the dread, worries, and frustration?  YES there is!

No matter how long your family dynamics have been in place, you can navigate it differently and produce a better result.  Keep in mind that you cannot change other people, but you can change how you react to them.

Holiday Survival Guide

  1. Reflect on past experiences to help you identify the biggest sources of frustration and anxiety. Then, for those things within your control, pre-plan how to do it differently.  Things like how much time spent together; sleeping arrangements; who’s driving everyone around; food preparations, etc.
  2. Let go of expectations for yourself and others. This doesn’t mean your standards or values go out the window.  Instead, don’t mentally role-play how the gathering should go and create rigid expectations.  As they say, expectations are nothing more than a planned resentment.  So, allow the gathering to unfold just as it is; release control and roll with it.  You’ll enjoy things more and won’t be disappointed.
  3. Bring your sense of humor with you – when we’re apprehensive about a situation, we tend to get way more serious and dwell on the potential problems, but that only worsens the outcome. Don’t take everything so seriously.  Imagine you’re in one of those Lifetime movies if you have to and laugh at the characters playing their parts.  Here’s 2 mantras to say to yourself in those moments: “it is what it is” and “this too shall pass”.
  4. Take yourself out of being in charge – assign that role to someone else. It might be the tradition in your family that you organize things or when things get tense you come to rescue and smooth them out.  Pre-announce to those that see you in the take-charge or fixer role that this year you’re taking a break from it all.  Pre-announce you don’t have the bandwidth for it.  Ask someone else to take the reins and then stick to it!  Sit back and let someone else do it their way.  If you’re a control freak, this might feel stressful, but only at first…by the end of the holidays you’ll be relieved you relinquished that role.
  5. Set your own ground rules. Don’t allow yourself to be baited into behavior that is out of your character. Know your triggers and decide ahead of time how you’ll respond if x, y, or z happens.
  6. Buddy up and create a life line. Pair up with someone you trust who can help you calm down or talk you through difficulties without further stirring the pot.  You’ll have to pre-arrange this and coordinate a system for one-another when uncomfortable situations arise.  It can be as simple as “help me get something out of the car?” and the two of you take a time out and talk it through.
  7. Exercise. It’s the #1 stress reducer.  So take your workout gear and go to the gym.  Or take a nice walk.
  8. Avoid known argumentative topics like politics. If it comes up, don’t engage; change the subject.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of course, but it’s sure to create a less stressful holiday experience with your family.

Wishing you good health and happiness,


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