We hope, and we wish, but not all of our holidays can be like those out of a Hallmark movie, ending in hugs, hot cocoa and what always seems like a perfectly timed snow flurry. Unfortunately, familial tensions don’t just magically defuse themselves once the calendar hits December, and dealing with difficult relatives and damaged relationships can feel like yet another thing on your already lengthy holiday to-do list. If simply RSVPing “no” isn’t a realistic solution for you, New York-based psychotherapist and social worker Meg Josephson has tips to ensure your family holiday get-togethers stay as stress-free as possible.

family holidays

1. Take timeouts. Turns out that timeouts during adulthood aren’t actually so bad, especially when they’re self-mandated. Josephson recommends going into family holiday parties with a plan of action for when things become too much to handle. “Maybe it’s going for a walk, playing with nieces and nephews, or meeting friends for a movie or dessert after dinner,” she says. And for a lengthier break from relatives during overnight trips, consider staying in a hotel. You’ll welcome the alone time.

2. Select a support person. “Line up a support person on speed dial who can talk you down when you get aggravated,” Josephson suggests. Whether it’s an S.O., friend, or a family member you actually get along with, having a support person you can call or, even better, talk to in-person during tense get-togethers can be very therapeutic.

3. Maintain perspective. It might not have been this way growing up, but you’re your own person now, and the labels your family has assigned to you mean little to nothing in the real world. “Keeping this in mind will help you from slipping into old roles and will enforce your connection to the life you have created for yourself, which is often separate from your life with your family,” Josephson states. “This mindset will allow you to change the way you act in relation to your family and can ultimately change the way they see and interact with you.”

4. Avoid binge drinking. Loitering by the liquor cabinet is definitely not the answer, according to Josephson. Although the temptation of minimized anxiety, decreased inhibitions, and boosted confidence brought on by alcohol seems pretty high, overly heavy pours can also increase the chance of conflict and unintentionally shared thoughts and feelings. A drink or two is a smart compromise.

5. Steer clear of certain subjects. Speaking of conflict, try to avoid topics that could cause contention, such as politics, religion, etc. If your family is not known to get along, bringing hot-button and controversial topics to the table is likely going to exacerbate that. “Unless you know everyone’s beliefs align, it will ultimately leave you upset and may be hard to recover from, especially in today’s climate,” Josephson comments. If someone is being persistent, politely change the subject or remove yourself from the conversation altogether.

6. Remember you’re not alone. Social media might tell a different story, but not all family holiday gatherings are happy ones, so you’re not the only one experiencing these emotions. In fact, you might not be the only person at your party experiencing these emotions. “Most of the times, your family members are navigating their own experiences, anxieties, and insecurities about being back at home too,” Josephson remarks. “Try to meet tough situations with humor and compassion.”

How do you handle even the most infuriating members of your family? Let us know @BritandCo.

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