3 Ways to Survive Family Holiday Gatherings

Let Go and Enjoy Thanksgiving Day:  Holiday get-togethers often look like a Norman Rockwell portrait from the outside but, as you probably know, they can sometimes end in huffy departures and hurt feelings. You want to enjoy your family and the holidays but it’s not easy when Uncle Frank pinches your cheeks, your brother blusters about politics you don’t agree with and your Aunt Gertie poses the dreaded question, “Are you still single?”

Never fear. You can make these gatherings easier on yourself and still show up to enjoy the holiday. “Have a game plan going in.” This is advice from Linda Finke, RNPhD, professor of nursing and executive director of Health Clinics and Behavioral Health Institute at Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne. “It takes two to spar, so plan out how you’ll respond to things without getting drawn in and defensive,” said Finke. Here are three tactics that will help.

1. Set some boundaries.

It’s easy to get carried away when debating a dinner topic that’s important to you. So make it clear to your dinner companions that you won’t be baited into misbehaving. Simply speak firmly and confidently. Use phrases that are likely to end the topic of conversation. Saying “I understand how you feel” can go a long way towards diffusing an argument. Realize that if someone is willing to confront you openly and passionately on a point they know you disagree with, you’re probably not going to change that person’s mind over dinner. You can let them know you’ve heard them and still keep your peace.

2. Take a time out.

If things get heated and you feel steam coming out of your ears, take a break. Get up and go to the restroom. There, take five deep breaths. Still not calm? Punch the air (go ahead, picture your adversary standing opposite you—we won’t judge). The physical activity will help you get it out of your system. You are also removing yourself from the situation, which is a natural subject changer. By the time you return to the table, your companions may have moved on to another topic. If not, do so yourself. “How ’bout those Bears?” is a cliché for a reason. It works.

3. Be willing to forgive.

This may be the toughest advice to take but, according to Finke, it is possible. “It helps to understand where a person is coming from, whether it’s their age, different beliefs from your own or genuine concern,” she said. Aunt Gertie may pester you about being single because she believes you’d be happier married. And she wants you to be happy. “Remember that it’s not about winning but about enjoying the day,” said Finke.

Sometimes, in the end, it’s best to get out of the situation. Definitely show up to holiday gatherings— your folks want to see you after all. “But don’t stay past your ability to tolerate the situation,” Finke advised. Do what’s best for you and you’ll be able survive family gatherings—and maybe even enjoy them.

Resources: IPFW Behavioral Health, Fort Wayne, 260.481.6564, ipfw.edu Parkview, Fort Wayne, 260.672.6450, parkview.com/women

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