Let’s face it. There will always be people at the holiday dinner table who make you feel uncomfortable, and who make you question whether you have to come back every year. But the truth is, you don’t have to bite your tongue, pull your hair out, or excuse yourself to the bathroom so you can silently scream into the mirror.
I have some suggestions for how to remain truly calm. Some are physical things you can do to calm your body’s stress response, and others are some key mental shifts. So let’s take a look at the different personalities you might be encountering this holiday season, and how best to respond so that you keep your cool, and enjoy the time you get to spend celebrating the holidays.
Of course, we all like to celebrate wins (as we should!), and your brother should be proud of his fancy new job! But sometimes, the show off can be a little too much. It can be hard not to compare yourself to others, specifically a sibling. And right now, you may be unemployed, and it stings a little worse than usual.
How to remain calm: Use humor and reminiscing…Your brother loves being the center of attention, and chances are he also knows how to take a joke or two. Find ways to laugh together rather than compare yourself to him internally. Maybe you want to remind him of that funny holiday movie you watched together when you accidentally sprayed water through your nose. Visualize the happy memories you’ve shared in the past with him or anyone else at the table to infuse positivity into your mind.
Maybe you’re single, maybe you have a partner but don’t plan on getting married, or maybe the marriage talk is not currently on the table. Whatever the case, grandmas and other family members want you to be happy. Even if it’s in a borderline obnoxious way that leaves you feeling pressured. But don’t take it to heart, it’s not a sign that you are failing or behind in life. Everyone has their own timeline of when things do or don’t happen for them.
How to remain calm: Be grateful…Instead of focusing on all the things that grandma and grandpa still want you to have, focus on how grateful you are to be sharing this time with them. To have people in your life who care about your well-being, even if it feels a bit too much sometimes. There are plenty of people who may not have families to celebrate the holidays with who are wishing they had a nagging grandma asking about their marital status. It will change your perspective!
This is another topic that may not be in the cards for you yet, or maybe not ever. Everyone is on their own path, which is sometimes hard for people to accept. But you don’t have to make your holiday dinner an occasion to get into a disagreement with anyone. Not every family gathering is a time for honest revelations or serious talks.
How to remain calm: Tune in to her…If you don’t feel like talking about your family planning, make it so the focus isn’t on you. Ask her what her favorite part of raising kids was. Or start asking others for great childhood stories, like what your partner was like as a kid,etc…. By shifting the conversation, you learn more about others, start a deeper conversation, and remove pressures placed on you.
He has some pretty outlandish theories that you and 99% of those around the table also don’t agree with. It can be hard to listen to and you’ve tried to explain the facts to him, but he just doesn’t hear it. Every time he opens his mouth you prep yourself for something offensive, and a major eye roll from everyone listening.
How to remain calm: Soothe your physical stress receptors…Sometimes no amount of mind shifting perspectives can help with someone you seriously disagree with. So instead, try soothing your stress receptors by touching your cheeks or chin, or by rubbing your hands together or the sides of your arms. You’ll be amazed how quickly your mood will change through these self-applied triggers.
I’m not sure what “it” is for you, but every family has an issue that’s gone through its fair share of arguments, conflicts, or grudges. No matter how much time passes though, the nosey brother-in-law doesn’t seem to want to let bygones be bygones. He may even still be fishing for answers that you are not willing to give, or even forgot by this point.
How to remain calm: Focus on the outcome…He might be bringing down your mood, but you don’t have to focus on his negative energy. Instead focus on why you’re there. The answer is probably to celebrate family, to support your partner, and to connect with people. And here’s one other idea: eat slowly. Take your time with responding to people and enjoy the meal you’re eating bite by bite. Not only will this send a calming signal to your brain, but it will also give you time to think about how you want to respond to him or anyone else you’re sharing this holiday with.
Lastly, yes, you can always choose to be assertive and convey your opinion. But for this article, I chose to focus on how to keep yourself calm, neutralize the potential conflict, and suggest that perhaps it is best to choose another time of the year to speak your truth. After all, those difficult personalities are not yours to change, especially not during the holidays!