How To Get Along With Family During The Holidays, Because It IS Possible, According To Experts

When you’re a kid, you’re so wrapped up in presents and chocolate snowmen during the holidays that you don’t even realize the tension between the adults is so thick, you could cut it with a knife. But as a grown-up, you start picking up on all the inappropriate comments being made at the dinner table, the butting of heads, and you realize that, family or not, some people just aren’t your cup of tea. Unfortunately, you have to figure out how to get along with family during the holidays, if for nothing else but to keep the peace.

Whether you’ll be home for the holidays, visiting a relative, or splitting this season’s festivities with your significant other, it’s OK to admit that family togetherness isn’t always super cozy for you; it doesn't mean you love these people any less. Still, if you can find a way to put the hard feelings aside for a party or two, I’m sure your hostess with the mostest would be forever grateful.

After all, it's hard enough getting so many people together to share a meal these days, and while I totally understand how it feels to be a little uneasy around certain family members, 'tis the season to come together and celebrate. So fa la la la la forget about them — for now, at least.

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Before you get defensive, let me just clarify that your feelings are 1000 percent valid, that I’ve been there, and I know from experience that putting hard feelings aside, even for a couple of hours, can be very difficult. Difficult, but not impossible.

"During this time of year, we’re bringing people together who have different personalities, different viewpoints, and different ways of handling conflict," Dr. Sherry Benton, psychologist, mental health care administrator, and founder/chief science officer at TAO Connect, tells Elite Daily. But, regardless of whether you see eye-to-eye with these people, she adds, "there is usually some sense of underlying positivity and feeling of support within most families." You just have find it.

So how do you keep your cool when the holiday season makes you feel anything but calm and collected? Here are a few expert tips to help you get along with the fam this season.

Accept That It's OK To Not Be Happy Around The Holidays

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Ideally, every holiday season would be as merry and bright as they appear to be in Hallmark movies, but in reality, that isn't always the case. With so many opposing personalities, and everyone trying to get a word in at the dinner table, there's bound to be at least a tiny bit of drama or tension.

But, if someone kind of ruins the experience for you, as disappointing as that may be, Dr. John Mayer, a clinical psychologist at Doctor On Demand, says it's important to remember that not every holiday party is going to be Pinterest-perfect — and, more importantly, that that's completely OK.

"We have an overriding notion that the holidays are all bliss and good feelings," Dr. Mayer tells Elite Daily over email. "But with gift-giving, visiting obligations, being in the presence of relatives and friends at get-togethers and festivities that we are in conflict with or estranged from, the pressure of finding the ‘perfect gift’ for someone, all these things add stress in our lives that we typically avoid the rest of the year."

In other words, sometimes the holidays can be stressful, and when you tack seasonal anxieties onto everyday anxieties, the worst is bound to come out. So, rather than getting annoyed by the fact that not everyone is in the holiday spirit, accept that you are only in control of your own emotions. Do your best to stay positive, and hopefully, others will follow your lead.

Hope For The Best, But Prepare For The Worst

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If you know for a fact that you're going to be dealing with some toxic family members this holiday season, Dr. Benton says the best thing you can do — for yourself, and for everyone else involved — is to prepare.

"Think about the types of situations you are dreading," she tells Elite Daily. For example, let's say you already know there are certain conversation topics that make you uncomfortable, but are still likely to come up at the holiday dinner table. According to Dr. Benton, the best thing you can do is try to rainstorm ways you can either avoid these subjects entirely, or at least exclude yourself from the discussion once it begins.

And while you're conjuring up a plan of action, Dr. Benton also suggests thinking about how you'll process these situations after the fact, too. "If you have healthy relationships with other members of your family," she explains, "it would be a good idea to process what happened and debrief with them instead of letting it fester inside your head."

Be Aware Of Your Surroundings And The People You Feel Uncomfortable With

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Don't let one or a few personalities you clash with ruin your entire celebration. Instead, Michael Alcee, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist based in Tarrytown, New York, says it's important to familiarize yourself with your surroundings, and latch on to loved ones you know will lift you up.

"Notice the good, bad, and the ugly," Alcee tells Elite Daily. If you feel yourself starting to get anxious or annoyed, he adds, that's when you really need to zero in on what he refers to as your "inner space," so that you can stay connected to the moment, find "ways you can creatively relate," he explains, and "find healthier compromises on the outside." In other words, take the time to acknowledge the people or places that do make you feel comfortable, and focus on them throughout a party or dinner to help yourself relax.

As for the troublemakers of the group, award-winning therapist Shannon Thomas suggests you try your hardest to simply avoid them. "Become as boring as a gray rock to that person," she says, and "keep conversations polite, but surface-level." The goal is to create a persona that this person grows bored with, and that makes them move on to someone else in the room. Sounds like a pretty genius strategy, if you ask me.

Have A Confidante

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Any time I'm feeling stressed or annoyed at a party, I'm either pulling my husband aside, or rounding up my sisters for an impromptu venting session. If you anticipate there being some kind of conflict at a holiday party before it even begins, mental health counselor Dr. Danielle Forshee, LLC suggests having a confidante at the ready: someone you can trust, who's there to discuss the issues with you, and who's down to help you come up with a game plan in case you need an out.

"A game plan could be a code word you have, a gesture you make from across the room, etc.," Forshee tells Elite Daily. "[It's] something that indicates to your partner that you need a break for a moment."

Talk to your confidante about what this game plan will look like ahead of time so you're both on the same page, and put it into action whenever necessary.

Bring Your Own Positive Energy To The Party

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Don't rely on your family and friends to be the light of the party when you have your own positivity to bring to the table. Unfortunately, the only thing you really have complete control over in life is yourself. So on that note, life coach and therapist Sanam Shamtobi says the best thing you can do is "contribute positive energy" when it comes to tense holiday gatherings.

This could be in the form of baking a pie for dessert, contributing a side dish for dinner, bringing flowers for the hostess, etc. Whatever you can do to spread the positive vibes this holiday, focus on that instead of who's bringing you down.