Nobody ever said that the holidays are easy. Though everyone dreams of the happy family Christmas full of laughter and gifts, the Hanukkah gathering filled with the perfect latkes, or the New Year’s Eve spent with a midnight Champagne toast, that just isn’t a reality. That’s because, more often than not, you have to spend the holidays with your family. And families can be… difficult.
Maybe you haven’t seen your relatives in a while, maybe recent politics have really divided your family, or maybe you just don’t get along with those you share a bloodline with. That’s OK! But you need to know how to survive, manage, and escape the holidays with your mental health intact. Luckily, we have 15 tips and strategies for getting through this holiday season while still staying in the good graces of your family and without losing your own cool.
Nobody says you have to go home for the holidays or spend it with your family. If your blood relatives are toxic people with whom you have nothing in common, consider celebrating in an alternative fashion. Perhaps you want to host a gathering with your friends and exchange gifts, or maybe you want to spend the holidays alone. Before you book your holiday travel, really consider if being with family is the right thing for your mental health.
The holidays are said to be the most wonderful time of the year, and movies depict families that are always happy at the end of 90 minutes. You need to set your expectations and know that won’t always be the reality. If you mentally prepare yourself for stress and chaos and maybe an argument or two, you’ll be better off than if you picture an idyllic white Christmas.
Know the comments, situations, and people that make you the most uncomfortable at any holiday gathering and plan for how you’ll deal with these situations. Prepare phrases, excuses, and escape strategies to get you out of those very situations; it can make all the difference.
You’ll always feel better when you’re helping others. Offer to help cook Christmas dinner, grab a soda out of the fridge for your dad when he’s in another room, or help your host throw away the wrapping paper. These little things will help to pass the time and give you an endorphin boost. Just be sure not to do too much for other people at the cost of your own happiness.
Does your father-in-law always have something demeaning to say? Is your cousin the complete opposite of you politically and always wanting to “debate” you? Avoid the most negative people at your holiday gathering and spend your time catching up with people whose company you truly enjoy instead.
You probably have at least one family member you truly get along with; buddy up with them. If you’re maneuvering your holiday party with your favorite sibling or cousin, it’ll be better for both of you. If there’s nobody at your party you can hang out with, have a buddy on standby to field your frustrated text messages and phone calls.
Alcohol can be an easy fallback for dealing with stressful family situations, but you may want to avoid getting drunk at the holidays. You never know what you might say after one too many eggnogs…
There are probably going to be a million little things that irritate you at your holiday gathering, but know when to walk away, know when to just ignore the subject, and know when to actually pick up your battle axe. Not everything has to be a debate or an argument, even if you disagree with what is being said.
Things are a little politically divisive these days, so stay clear of world affairs. There are other topics never to discuss: religion, money, sex, gossip, or touchy personal drama. If you stick to lighthearted topics like sports, holiday traditions, and work, things will be better.
When things get tense, have a few methods for changing the subject. Give a compliment, steer the conversation to another subject, or pull someone else into the discussion and ask how they’re doing. Sure, these methods may be a little clunky, but it’ll help.
If someone is being harsh or rude or disrespectful, even if it’s specifically toward you, know that they’re probably coming from a good place. The holidays are stressful for everyone, not just you. Don’t get mad at your family members; try to think about what made them so angry or frustrated and try to relate to their own struggles.
Sometimes, people point out things in others that they hate the most about themselves. If your grandmother insults your job or if your brother tells you that your cooking sucks, know that they probably are just insecure yourself. If you don’t take insults or even passive comments personally, your holiday will go a lot smoother.
If everything else fails, take a breather. Walk around the neighborhood and see the Christmas lights, go to the mall to do some last-minute shopping, volunteer to be the family member who runs to the gas station and buys another 12-pack of beer. Taking a little break and getting away from the family stress can make all the difference.
If your family is constantly attacking you, getting into fights, and stressing you out, there’s no reason to stick around. The worst thing that will happen when you leave is that you’ll offend somebody, and they’re probably offended anyway. You need to take care of yourself first and foremost. So go home, relax, and chow down on some stress-fighting holiday superfoods.