For some family dinners, the holidays are just another reason to get together, eat great food, and have a good time. In this scenario, there’s nothing more enjoyable than spending extra time with your loved ones (it’s what the holidays are all about after all), BUT for other families, even the closest relatives can get grouchy when they’re together for days or even hours at a time.
If your family holiday gatherings cause a spike in anxiety or even the occasional panic attack, it’s wise to be prepared with a plan of action.
Realistic Expectations— How many times have you persuaded yourself to believe that things would either be way better or way worse than they ended up being? It’s unlikely your dinner will devolve into a National Lampoon’s Christmas Dinner kind of debacle. If your expectations are kept reasonable, and you realize that the day will neither be your worst or best-case scenarios, you’ll find yourself equipped to handle this family encounter.
Smile and Nod— Master the skill of smiling and nodding. Being polite can go a long way in helping you escape chaotic situations. Participating in arguments and bickering back and forth can feel satisfying for a brief moment but more often than not, it ends up draining the participants and makes everything tenser than it was before.
Testing Grounds — Look to your next family gathering as an opportunity to see how much you’ve progressed as a person. When the non-jokes about getting married, getting a real job, or doing something about your weight start pouring out, just tell yourself; “This is a test…I repeat—ONLY a test.” More than likely, your family isn’t trying to drive you crazy or be hurtful. They’re just being themselves.
Tell a story — Your family probably just wants to know what’s going on in your life. If you’re quiet and distant during dinner time, you run the risk of being thought of as cantankerous and uninvolved, and your overly dramatic aunt might take it the wrong way. Instead, talk about what you’re doing at work, what your friends are up to, or how excited you are about the tasty dessert options. If you smile and laugh, and share information about your life, your family will leave thinking about how awesome you are and forget all about that awkward argument you had with your Grammy last year.
Line up some allies — The odds that you’re the only one irked by your family’s dysfunctional routine are slim. Search out a companion who you can call on to help change things up. Brainstorm different ways to direct a certain individual’s most tiresome and annoying antics in another direction. The important thing is to have somebody who knows you and understands your family’s dynamics. Basically, an ally that you can just roll your eyes with.
Family dinners can be stressful, but if you keep a positive attitude and try to get involved, you may find that they’re actually kind of fun, and that has you more in common with your relatives than you think.
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