3 Survival Tips for Any Family Gathering


As the holidays approach, I can feel my anxiety edging up, up, up. There's an extra pressure that comes along with Thanksgiving/Christmas, and maybe it's as simple as blaming the change in routine. Suddenly, family dinners are mandatory. Gift-giving is expected. Add in travel, challenging relatives, and other stressors and you may find yourself feeling less "festive" than you should.

BUT. You're not resigned to being stressed-out over the inevitable holidays. Especially if you follow these 3 tips on how to make it through. They can help turn a hectic family dinner into a fun and pleasurable oasis. Bonus: You'll maintain your sanity!




Your niece or nephew is visiting. Your daughter's first Thanksgiving. The fact that your grandmother is still alive and well enough to boss everyone around in the kitchen... there are things to celebrate at every gathering, but sometimes you have to look for them. Years ago I heard this gem:

Whatever you focus on expands.

Since then I've thought of those words and reflected on them often. For example, if you focus on how gloomy and dreary the weather is your attitude will be in the toilet for the rest of the day. Focus on how angry political-styled posts make you feel, and your soul all but corrodes. 

Shifting your focus can be as simple as logging off social media for a weekend or listening to your favorite music while you cook dinner rather than turn on the local (bad) news station. If you want to be joyous and happy, start fostering those emotions with your actions.



If you haven't gleaned by now from my earlier posts, I'm a planner. If it's written in my calendar, I do it. Scheduling dreaded tasks like "dentist" and "hair appointment" ahead of time take some of the sting of having to go do it, so I try and plan ahead whenever possible. 

The same goes for holidays. Luckily, there's (usually) no guesswork involved in Thanksgiving or Christmas. The dates are already pre-printed on every calendar! Even if your family is like mine and the time of the actual get together is up in the air, you at least know what day and with whom you're going to be hobnobbing.

Planning ahead has lots of different meanings. Maybe you need to bake the pie you promised to bring and shopping for groceries early will alleviate some of the pressure. Or perhaps you need to indulge in some self-care before dealing with a particularly challenging relationship. Mediation? Deep breathing? Read the Boundaries book? Or maybe simply having a conversation. Explain gently to your mother that you're not eating turkey this year because of your cleanse, not because you don't love her. Whatever "it" is, dealing with it ahead of time could be the game-changing difference you've been seeking.

As an aside, it never hurts to let do a "Brain Dump" in preparation. We don't always know what's really bugging us until we write it down on paper. (I have a blog with some tips on brain dumping here.) 



A big work project deadline looms. Your husband was just laid off. Monday morning you're starting a brand new job.

Whatever's on your mind is keeping you from being there at your family's table. No matter how legitimate the worry, vow to be present during those few precious hours spent giving thanks or exchanging gifts. The easiest way to be present? Remember your five senses! Take in the sight of the antique turkey table decorations your mother trots out every year. Inhale the scents of the season--my mom's stuffing is filled with sage and thyme and always makes me smile. Similar to my mom's famous stuffing is grandma's apple salad. The taste makes me feel young again and I always indulge in a bite or two, even if I'm too full. Embrace your loved ones a little tighter this season, and revel in the rough wool feel of your grandfather's sweater. Listen to the laughter and the words said during prayer at the table.

Paying close attention to negative feelings can help you better deal with them, too. No one is perfect, and holidays mean stress for everyone not just you! If your sister snaps at you for something you said, rather than fall into old patterns of snapping back, PAUSE. Take a breath and remind yourself that everyone is dealing with challenges. That said, you don't have to take it. Calmly stand and leave the room, or simply eat a little crow by offering an, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it that way."  Careful honesty can sometimes defuse even the prickliest situation.

Enjoy your holidays!


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