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Keep your cool and take the stress out of family gatherings

Published in Inside CentraCare Health, For the Health of It Author: Ryan Engdahl,PhD, LP

Coordinator, Integrated Behavioral Health Services
CentraCare Health

“Have you put on weight?” “Your kids sure are energetic.” “Your car would look pretty good if it was clean.” If you have relatives who feel like it’s OK to say whatever they are thinking, you may get stressed out about holiday gatherings.

Remember, you can’t control how other people behave — you can only manage how you react to them. Keep tabs of your mood elevator and act accordingly.

Here are some tips for keeping your cool when your family starts pushing your buttons:

  1. Make a plan. Think about how you want to behave. Imagine how you’d like a fly on the wall see you act in those moments. Get plenty of sleep the night before. If there is someone who really grates on your nerves, keep your distance and do your best to stick with the plan.
  2. Steer the conversation. If someone makes a negative comment, change the subject. If someone tries to talk about politics, divert the discussion to sports, pets, kids or how hopeful you are for us to get some snow. Ask open-ended questions such as “What have you been up to?” or “How are things going?”
  3. Watch the alcohol intake. Lowering your inhibitions is not a good idea when you are trying to manage your emotions and reactions. 
  4. Take deep breaths. Just stop, breathe and go to a happy place in your mind. Holiday gatherings do not last forever — even if they feel like they do. 
  5. Have fun. Bring up happy memories from your childhood. Talk about funny cat videos on YouTube. Just keep it positive. If the adults aren’t any fun, play a game with the kids. They appreciate your attention and they probably still think your jokes are funny. 
  6. Count your blessings. Instead of focusing your time and energy on what you don’t like, think about all of the things that you are grateful for. 
  7. Don’t expect miracles. Your family isn’t a Norman Rockwell painting. Instead of hoping for resolution of past family squabbles, just smile and get through it without creating any new tension. 
  8. Have an exit strategy. Decide how long you are going to stay and stick to the plan.