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The festive season often means we have to spend time with our nearest and dearest. But what do you do if your family are not exactly The Brady Bunch? What if they're the sort of folk who tend to drive you utterly mad? Being confined to the same room as difficult family members over Thanksgiving or Christmas can leave you feeling stressed-out, wound-up and ready to crack.

Here is my 7-step guide to dealing healthily with your loved ones over the Holidays without going crazy.

  1. Remember It's Not About You 

Some people are so good at winding people up that you may feel that their remarks are meant to hurt you ‒ and that can really sting. If someone is making hurtful comments, it says much more about them than it does about you. Don't take what they say personally – remember that they just don't know how to get attention or express themselves in a more helpful way.

  1. Prepare Your Escape Route 

If you know your family will be too much to handle over the holidays, then make a plan for peaceful ways to escape and get a bit of space. Arrange to meet friends over the festive season, so you get a break from your family. Take mini time-outs, like going for short walks, popping out to the car or corner shop, or going into the garden to get some fresh air. Use that space to breathe deeply and regroup before you have to go back in.

  1. Stop Talking

If your family members are the sort of people who like to criticise everything you say or niggle about your point of view, then decide to be a bit quieter over the holiday period. Spend your time listening more than talking – other people love being listened to, so they'll naturally be nicer if you make them feel like you're paying them attention. You might even hear some interesting stories or feel closer to your family by learning more about them.

  1. Quit Fighting 

You don't have to agree with everything your family says or does, but this doesn't mean you have to argue either. Avoid a squabble by staying neutral and just letting their words and deeds wash over you. Arguments often play out like a never-ending ping pong match. Put down the bat, and decide you're not going to play that game. You'd rather keep your temper and your integrity, thank you very much.

  1. Focus on Your Family's Good Points 

Think of one thing you really like about each family member (you're sure to be able to find one). Bite your tongue and focus on that when they're annoying you. In fact, you can even go as far as deciding, ahead of time, a nice compliment you can give each family member. It will help you focus on their good points and also make them feel warmer towards you.

  1. Give, Give, Give

Get into the holiday spirit by making a major effort to be as compassionate, kind, helpful and loving as possible. If you'll be a guest at another family member's house, offer to help them with the meal preparation or arrange to take along a delicious home-made dessert. You'll not only be seen as nice, but you'll also help them to de-stress. If there's less pressure on your family, they are less likely to be argumentative. If you're the one doing the hosting, put a special gift at each dinner setting. It doesn't have to be expensive, just something that shows you have thought about what matters to each individual. From their favourite sweet to a present for their pet, a little something goes a long way to showing you care.

  1. Reward Yourself

Niceness is its own reward, but there's no harm in giving yourself a bit of a treat if you've made a massive effort despite it being difficult. After the main event, don’t over-analyse how it went or what people may have thought. Instead, give yourself credit for trying hard and being as nice as you could. Book a massage, make a playlist of chill-out music, or line up your favourite movie that you can look forward to when it's all over. Happy holidays!


by Beth Burgess, Therapist and author of The Recovery Formula and The Happy Addict.

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