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5 Tips to Survive Family Holiday Gatherings

Updated: Apr 1, 2023

They don't always have to be filled with stress, dread, and anxiety. Enjoy your relatives this holiday season.

The holidays can be both fun and joyous, but they also can cause a lot of stress at family gatherings. If you have family members who create stress, frustration, and annoyance in your life, you are not alone.

We can become triggered by hearing certain topics or seeing certain people we try to avoid because of past hurts and disappointments. We'd all like to avoid them completely during the holidays because we want to avoid drama, but that's not always possible. What is possible is enjoying yourself and maintaining your inner peace. Here are four ways to keep your sanity and enjoy family gatherings during the holidays.

If you struggle with family holiday gatherings, here are five ways you can get through them with your sanity intact.

Tip #1 - Remember to BREATHE!

Take deep breaths throughout the day. Oftentimes we are not breathing the way we should, especially when we feel stressed or anxious. Taking deep breaths will help slow your heart rate and calm your body to think clearly and rationally. One simple breathing technique you can do is the 4-4-4-4: breathe in for 4 seconds, hold it for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, and hold it for 4 seconds. You can do this anywhere at any time and even get the kids to do it too.

Tip #2 - Take breaks.

Give yourself and your family time away from the larger group every so often. This will help you regroup and clear your head, help your kids regulate, do something fun as a family, and help you and your partner connect and strategize to manage the hustle and bustle. Even if you have to go to the car or hide out in the bathroom, give yourself space to be alone or around fewer people for a while.

Give yourself time to refresh, regroup, and regulate through the hustle and bustle of it all.

Tip #3 - Set boundaries before you leave the house.

Make sure you and your partner are on the same page about what you will tolerate and what is off-limits. You may have topics that are off limits, or you don’t want certain things said or done to or around your kids, so establish that boundary early and share it with your relatives beforehand if possible.

Pro tip: My family is body-positive, meaning we do not shame people for food choices or talk about their bodies. Hearing phrases like, "You don't want to get fat," or "Are you sure you should be eating that too?" are triggering and inappropriate.

My boundary is that we don't talk about weight with the kids and will call someone out for their comments and cut the visit short if need be.

Tip #4 - Enforce your boundaries.

Having boundaries means nothing if they are not enforced, right? They are not threats, nor are they to degrade or belittle anyone. Boundaries are also not meant to control other people. They are set to protect your family and ensure they are being treated with respect.

Make sure to have a plan when enforcing your boundaries, like separating your family from the larger group for a while, pulling the boundary-breaker aside for a chat, or cutting the visit short--and sticking with it to let them know you're serious. Your peace is important. Protect it.

Tip #5 - Celebrate yourself!

Have something to look forward to when you return home. Celebrate the fact that you made it through another holiday family gathering with your sanity. Do something special for yourself, like take an extra-long shower or bath, find a simple yoga video on YouTube, buy yourself a gift (because why not?), or give yourself a facial. Whatever you want to do, make sure you're doing it for yourself.

Bottom Line

Ultimately, if you're able to steer clear of toxic family members and create some healthy boundaries, you are likely to survive the holidays no matter what. Leaning on your village is also a good safety net for times when you really do find yourself on the edge. Lastly, if all else fails in terms of staying sane during the holidays, just remember that you don't have to be there, and that's okay too. You can create new memories and traditions with your own family that are more intimate and meaningful. Whatever you decide, remember to have fun!

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