The world is divided into two types of people: those who look forward to holiday family gatherings, and those who have at least one foot in reality, knowing that another family get-together means yet another chance for your mom to wonder aloud why you’re not married or for your uncle to say something embarrassing right in the middle of dinner.
Try to have the perspective to laugh about your family’s quirks and foibles. You can rest assured you’re not alone in dealing with holiday gathering frustrations; even the most loving families get annoyed with each other—and plenty of families are worse.
Try these tips for maintaining personal serenity and composure, even if you’re dealing with relatives you endure instead of enjoy:
- Make time to get away. The great familial frustration authority Marge Simpson once said, “Part of spending time together as a family is spending time apart.” Give yourself some breathing room by planning a walk around the block after dinner, or running a quick errand while the rest of the family convenes in the living room to watch football. Even the smallest snatch of solitude during an otherwise busy day can feel like an oasis in the Sahara.
- Get in some exercise before the big get-together. Too often we use the holidays as an excuse to stop exercising completely. Yes, exercise is good for countering all the rich foods of the season, but it also goes a long way toward keeping a grip on your serenity; exercise is great medicine for stress and tension. Abandoning your usual routine now is asking for trouble.
- Go big on distractions. Tuning in to Thanksgiving Day football is often a good strategy to avoid disagreements, but unless it’s the greatest game ever, you might start to lose folks, so have a plan B. Which board or card games have been effective for keeping family members in the spirit of the season? Or have some old photo albums ready to pull out when Aunt Mavis inevitably asks how everyone is planning to vote in the 2016 election.
- Become a participant-observer. It helps to remember that you will never be able to keep your family from being who they are. So, untether yourself from the family dynamic and engage in what social scientists call “participant observation,” where you think of yourself as physically there but at the same examining your surroundings with an outsider’s sense of wonder. You might even try narrating your findings a la Marlin Perkins in Wild Kingdom. Keep these observations to yourself, though, at least until you have the chance to…
- Debrief with a close friend or co-conspirator. Even if you choose not to be a participant-observer, looking forward to a casual get-together with a sympathetic someone (or, better yet, group of someones) once the family is gone can be crucial to your sense of perspective. Make a game of it: You can all trade horror stories, agreeing that whoever had the most challenging family get-together doesn’t have to pay for his or her lunch/drinks.
- Tech to the rescue! And of course, your connected life provides a rescue. Enjoy your favorite games if you need a mental breather, or check out the following apps designed to get you out of the toughest jams as a last resort: Fake Conversation (free for iOS) and Fake Call (free for Android). These two apps do essentially the same thing, which is provide you with a fake phone call that you simply must take. Fake Conversation, supplies a script that you can recite to help you really sell the ruse, while Fake Call throws in a fake text message if necessary. Just what you need when Uncle Stan has you cornered and starts theorizing about Area 51 and the crashed UFO spacecraft rumored to be stored there.