5 Tips for Surviving the Family Holiday Drama

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“Te estas poniendo vieja, cuando vas a tener hijo? (You’re getting old, when are you having kids?)

“What are you doing these days?”

“We are NOT going to do there!”

“Did you hear what happened to so-and-so?”

I have heard all of these over the years at holiday get-togethers. And then there are the things that are unsaid: the family members who avoid each other, the peripheral conversations about a sticky subject, or the funktified energy brought on by that one family member who says the wrong things at the wrong time.

Sigh.

Holiday get-togethers can bring about stress and anxiety for a number of reasons: the nostalgia of a lost one, intrusive questions, political conversations, a cramped space, bad food, or family dysfunction. Even still, you confirm, buy your ticket or plan how to get to the dinner, and try to make the best of it.

You don’t have to leave your having a good time up to chance! Try these sanity-saving tips:

  1. Start with a clean slate: part of family holiday drama is residual issues from the last holiday get-together or some other unprocessed emotions from the past. Without working through that or temporarily suspending it, you’re walking into Thanksgiving dinner with an emotional filter that may not be healthy. What would it be like if you tried your best to take every conversation or interaction on it’s own, without attaching the past to it? You can choose to put those unhealed feelings on hold for a night or weekend and at best, you can actually work through them.

  2. Prepare, but be flexible: if you anticipate triggering questions, prepare some answers ahead of time. For a while, I used to answer the first question above with “I’m sorry you think I’m old, I don’t! I’ll have kids when it feels right.” If you anticipate dinner being late and you get hangry, have a snack before dinner. Even with preparation, you still may be caught in a situation you didn’t anticipate. Be kind to yourself, take a deep breath, and then figure it out.

  3. Practice gratitude: this may seem obvious because, well, Thanksgiving, but we often forget the calming powers of gratitude. Even if you’re caught in the middle of drama, find things to be grateful for. And if feels impossible, be grateful for life, your breath, and the lesson you will inevitably learn from being in that sticky situation.

  4. Identify an ally, IRL or from a distance: even in the most dysfunctional of families, there is a neutral party. Whether this person is an actual family member or not, (it can be your plus one if you have one), you may strategize with them beforehand (i.e. if my uncle Radames brings up X, lets go into the kitchen). Their presence may also represent refuge by being the person you strike a convo with if you need a break. And if all else fails, count on the group chat I KNOW you have (though I’m not advocating for screentime as a solution!)

  5. Think through self-care practices: have an idea of how you’re going to give yourself a breather if things get a little intense for you. Maybe it’s a walk outside or playtime with your niece or nephew. Or maybe it’s finding some alone time and repeating your favorite mantra (hello, bathroom mirror).

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If holiday get-togethers are making you break out into hives, know that you are not alone! Leave a comment or question below or shoot me an email if that works better for you. I’m rooting for you!

In health,

Josie