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How to Survive the Holidays If Family Time Stresses You Out
A guide to get you through to the new year.
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It’s that time of year again! Time for pretty lights, greeting cards, and...tense gatherings with the family? If the thought of spending time with your family makes you wish for a holiday like Kevin’s in Home Alone (by yourself, fending off home invaders with booby traps), then you might need a few of the tips below. Here’s our holiday survival guide, with advice for getting through the holidays with your family (no ‘90s movie antics necessary).

1. Plan ahead.

You’re here reading this, so you’re already on the right track! Before you head into a family event, it’s good to have an idea of what can happen (and how you can respond). Specifically, think about the things that might cause you some extra stress -- like your aunt with the questions that get just a little too personal, or your younger cousin who’s convinced he’s going to be the next big YouTube prankster.

Once you’ve pinpointed the stuff you’re worried about, figure out a plan for them. Prepare a response for when your aunt asks you for a third time about your significant other, and keep your cousin at arm’s length by snagging a spot at the adults’ table for dinner.

2. Have an escape plan.

Okay, so you probably can’t just leave the family gathering altogether (because if you could, we wouldn’t be here, right?). Buuuut, it’s still possible to find little escapes for yourself throughout the night.

If your family is hosting, sneak off to your bedroom for a break, and if not, the bathroom is always an option. You could even go for a walk around the block to truly get away from it all (and then you’d be giving off some Sporty Cousin™ energy). Your family may not want you to ghost on the whole event, but 10 minutes here and 15 minutes there probably won’t hurt.

3. Find an ally.

For a lot of people, the hardest part of spending time with extended family is feeling like you aren’t accepted or understood (whether for your identity or interests or something else entirely). So find your own support system!

Stick with a relative who you do get along with. Not only will you have a buddy for the night, you'll have someone to stick up for you if things get hairy. And if all else fails, ask your friends to be on standby, and call or text them when you need some support.

4. Don’t engage (unless you want to).

Where there’s family gatherings, those dreaded family conversations usually follow. You know the type -- when your relatives start sharing their hot takes, some sharp words are exchanged, and things get a little too personal. You are under no obligation to engage with problematic family members, so don’t feel the need to spend your holidays trying to change their minds about politics, religion, or whatever the Girl Scouts are doing right now (selling us some thin mints soon, we hope).

Instead, deflect! Smiling and nodding goes a long way, and it makes it pretty easy to just tune out of any conversation. Or, try redirecting the conversation by changing the subject or using some humor. Your grandpa wants to talk about Greta Thunberg? Time to bring up how much you’re enjoying the mashed potatoes. Your brother won’t stop arguing about cryptocurrency? Sounds like the perfect opportunity to share a funny cat video.

(And if you’re gonna start a sticky conversation, know the right way to do it.)

5. Distract, distract, distract.

When there’s nothing going on, you’re more likely to feel tension or discomfort around your family. That’s why you should try to keep folks busy and out of trouble with a fun activity. Gather your relatives to play a board game, watch a holiday movie, or thumb through some picture albums.

If that doesn’t sound like something you or your family would be into, you can always try setting up some distractions for yourself. Download a fun app on your phone, bring a book, or play some music. Sitting on the couch staring at the wall won’t help anyone, so have something to help pass the time.

6. Find your joy.

Listen, you don’t have to have fun the whole time you’re with your family, but don’t let a negative mindset keep you from enjoying the things that you do like. Focus on the stuff that makes you happy around the holidays, even if they’re small.

Maybe you’re looking forward to hanging out with the family pet, or you’re genuinely really into those mashed potatoes (not just for distraction purposes). Seek those things out, and let them fuel your holiday fun -- and don’t feel guilty about the things that don’t. So wear a cozy sweater, go back for seconds, and let yourself enjoy the small stuff.

7. Ask for help.

As overbearing as they may be sometimes, remember that your family cares about you. More often than not, they’ll try to help you out if you just ask, so communicate with them clearly about how you feel and what you need.

Before the gathering, you could ask your siblings to stay nearby in case you need their help dealing with a certain relative. If you’re feeling overwhelmed once you’re there, you can ask your relatives hosting the event for a space you can chill in alone for a bit. And don’t be afraid to tell your parents if you’re truly feeling uncomfortable or in need of support.

8. Give yourself something to look forward to.

If nothing else seems to work out, you can always hold onto the knowledge that this will be over soon. The holidays come and go, and you always make it through, so this year will be no different.

Make some plans for what you’ll do post-holidays to take care of yourself, and keep it in the back of your mind when the night gets stressful. After all, there are few things in this world as comforting as knowing that your favorite pajamas and the third season of The Office are waiting for you when you get home.

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