It’s the most wonderful ti-iiiiiime of the year. It’s annual obligatory spend time with the family season. If, like so many, your family holiday gatherings tend to cause a spike in anxiety and frequency of panic attacks, it’s good to go into these them with a plan of action.
Aunt that drinks 5 too many glasses of merlot? Uncle that wants to summarize the last 6 months of Rush Limbaugh’s show? Parents that ask ‘When are you going to settle down and get married?’” On their own, these are all very manageable stressors. Together, though, they create a perfect storm of family-based madness.
Without further ado, I present to you six steps to surviving your family holiday:
1. Have reasonable expectations
How often have you convinced yourself that things would either be way better or way worse than they actually ended up being? Stop it. No, dinner with your family is unlikely to be a magical Dickens-esque Christmas with the Cratchits, but it’s also unlikely to devolve into a National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation-like scene of madness (complete with boxed cats, squirrels in trees, and a turkey that deflates with the first cut). If you keep your expectations reasonable, understanding that the day will neither be your worst or best case scenarios, you’ll find yourself prepared to face this encounter with your family.
2. Deal with one crisis at a time
If you’re at the table and your aunt is screaming about utensils, an uncle is trying to enlist you in the local chapter of the Tea Party, small cousins are running around screaming, and your dad is asleep on the couch, there’s nothing you can do here except minimize your focus so as to not become overwhelmed. Zone some of this out. In this case, it might be best to offer help with one of these crises, such as the aunt with the utensils. You’ll both be helping reduce another relative’s stress while simultaneously giving yourself an opportunity to get out of your seat to momentarily allow your politics-minded uncle to latch on to another relative (sorry, siblings).
3. Be a Zen-Master
Master the art of smiling and nodding. Polite agreement can go a long way in helping you escape rough situations. I know, I know, some of the things your relatives say to you may be absolutely ridiculous, and may even be offensive. No matter how much you want to defend your own views, trust me, it’s best to not engage. Let the words of others pass through you.
4. Avoid controversial topics
This goes along with #3. Politics, religion, relationships, current events — these are off limits. Under no circumstances should you bring these topics up unprompted. Actually, by starting a conversation of any sort, you’re opening the door to stress. “There was construction on the way over,” can turn into an uncomfortable talk about government spending. “It’s really cold out,” can transform into a strange talk about a relative’s disbelief in climate change. “I was sick last week,” can turn into a lengthy criticism of ‘Obamacare.’ There’s no way you can win in these situations. General talk about sports and compliments on the food are the only two truly safe topics to start a conversation on.
5. Your vice is nice
Tiny Tim’s crutch was an actual crutch, but mine is Xanax. If I’m entering a situation that I sense will be stressful, I may preemptively take a half tablet of my wonderful pill-shaped friend. Provided that you’re not the one doing the driving (and you’re of age), some people find that a drink helps calm their nerves. Be warned, though: I am suggesting a single drink. If you find yourself on your third, fourth, or fifth, your experience could quickly turn from that of a relaxed buzz to a stressful drunkenness.
It’s the holidays! Take a load off! You love your family, and they love you. This doesn’t have to be a stressful or traumatic experience. Enjoy the fact that you’re spending time surrounded by love, even if said love may sometimes drive you a little bonkers. If you do find yourself getting too stressed out, do the little things you do whenever you find yourself stressed any other day of the year. Step outside and gather your thoughts if that helps. Maybe excuse yourself and listen to one of your favorite songs. Just do whatever works for you.