7 Tips for Surviving the Holidays with Family

It's that time again. The holidays are here. Tension is running high, guests who haven't arrived are already wearing out their welcome, and you forgot that your brother's new girlfriend is vegan. 

Let's review the seven tips I outlined last year for surviving the holidays with family (or any situation in life involving other human beings). 

1. Get in and get out.
Whether that means 30 minutes, five hours, or four days, have a plan and stick to it. Set expectations for yourself, e.g. "I will leave at 4:30," or "I will leave if it gets to be too much." And set expectations for others, e.g. "Aunt Sally, I'm looking forward to seeing you. I will be there at 3pm but unfortunately have to leave by 7pm." People crave structure whether they know it or not. It's not your job to teach it to them, only to stay committed to your own.  

2. Make a self-care sandwich.
I'm an introvert and get my energy from being alone or in small groups. I know this about myself, so in order to avoid taking my idiosyncratic personality traits out on others, I have to sandwich big family gatherings, vacations with friends, even just a large group outing to dinner, with actions before and after that ground me. This could include reading a book for 15 minutes, working out, cleaning something, or even taking a day off from work. The more your system will be taxed in a situation, the greater the actions will need to be that you take before and after to keep you in or restore you to a calm place. 

3. Watch yourself more than you watch others. 
My mentor tells me, "Kate, stay in your hula hoop." She also says, "Keep the focus on you." I can't control what others think, feel, say, or do. I can only watch myself to ensure I'm being true to the version of me I want to be. 

4. Give yourself enough time.
For me, I know nothing contributes more to an already tense or agitated state than feeling rushed or behind. If you're making Grandma's famous pecan pie for Thanksgiving, don't wait until two hours before dinner to get started on it and then get upset when the kitchen is crammed full of people, the oven is in use, and you can't get any elbow room. Preparation soothes anxiety.

5. Give yourself enough space.
Space = sanity. For those venturing away from home during the holidays, I would go so far as to say if it's not in the budget to get your own hotel room, strongly consider whether you really want to make the trip or not. That might be extreme, but remember, family can bring out our most extreme personality traits. Why not give yourself the gift of a good night's sleep in a room that cleans itself and comes with breakfast? However, if this isn't feasible, then at the very least, ensure you're staying mindful of these other suggestions, especially #1. Do you really want to share bunk beds with Cousin Charlie for six days? Probably not, but you might be able to tolerate it for three.

6. Be of service.
When my grandfather passed away everyone piled into my grandmother's house. I remember feeling really uncomfortable and awkward. (What do I say? What do I do? Where do I stand?) So I started washing dishes. There were tons of people in the house so there were plenty to do—rinse the dishes, load the dishwasher, unload the dishwasher, put the dishes away—washing dishes became my lifesaver. When we're able to be of service to our families, whether our intention is to help or to get out of discomfort (or maybe a little of both), the outcome is the same: we're helping, we're focusing love and kindness towards others, we're keeping our minds occupied with a task.  

7. Drink more water.
This sounds like an odd one, but I swear it works. First, we could all stand to be a little more hydrated. Second, and more importantly, drinking more water gives you built-in, excusable breaks where you get to be entirely alone. The more water you drink, the more bathroom breaks you get to take. Someone bothering you? No problem! In 15 minutes you'll need to head to the bathroom again anyway. Take a few deep breaths, text a friend, say a quick prayer, do whatever you need to do find a moment of peace, then get back out there. I'd much rather be known for having a small bladder than a bad attitude. (WARNING: Do NOT substitute water for alcohol. I promise, it will not achieve the desired outcome.)

The holidays are stressful. People are walking around in heightened states of emotion strung out on sugar and spending. We can take care of ourselves through this though. We can plan an exit strategy, be helpful, stay in our hula hoops, get a hotel room, whatever we need to do to be okay. Expect that everyone will be exactly as they were last year. YOU be different this year. And when all else fails, take a bathroom break.