7 STEP SURVIVAL GUIDE: How To Enjoy Holiday Parties, Gatherings, And Family Reunions


Ahhh the holidays.

Fun fact: Though all about joy, cheer, and gratitude, the holidays are also rife with threats to one’s emotions, self-esteem, and self-talk that send people straight for the spiked eggnog.

My recent posts have been about identifying and eliminating your insecurity as well as how to obtain a support system that is unique to your emotional needs. What better time to test what you have learned from me than the holidays??

Holidays are full of family time. Family time can be stressful. Stress leads to insecurity. Insecurity leads to a need for support.

Need I say more?

Okay, I will say more.

Sometimes that support is family, yes, but family is often the cause of insecurity so support comes in the form of booze, naps, or your cell phone. 

Family members know how to trigger your insecurity and anger better than anyone in the world because they were there when your triggers were created. In fact, they probably created them. 

Whether you celebrate the holidays with your entire extended family, you spend a couple days with only a few family members, or you spend the holiday with friends, here is your guide to making it through and maybe, just maybe, enjoying yourself along the way:

1. Plan ahead

Your family or friend has definitely already come up with an itinerary for the festivities, so make sure you memorize it ahead of time.

What parts of it are you looking forward to or dreading? During which events will you be most tired / stressed / overwhelmed / comfortable?

Predicting your reactions will make the instances so much less intense.

2. Define your outcome

Answer this question:  What do I want to get out of this family / friend time?   

Set an intention for yourself so that your participation in all the cheer is purposeful related to your enjoyment and fulfillment instead of being an aimless passenger that is just one of the crowd.

Is there a family member with whom you particularly want to speak? Is there something that you would like to learn about? Is there an activity in which you want to make sure you participate?

3. Find an ally

People often feel alone in the sea of family members and friends at holiday gatherings, blending in with the cookie-cutter etiquette of cocktail attire and trying not to drink too much, rinsing and repeating the same conversation about their life.

When these people feel alone, they soon feel stifled.

Though sounding ironic, it so happens that feeling alone drives people to recoil, which inspires them to separate even more and find relief in solitude.

Before the party begins, find an ally that you know will be in attendance, invite them to be your buddy ahead of time, or make sure to find them at a certain point in the evening to feel the warmth of connection and fulfilling together-ness. 

4. Choose a coping skill

You probably have not seen the family and friends you see at holiday gatherings in a long time, so it can be a shocking change from normal day to day life and can make them feel overwhelmed and overstimulated.

If this is you and you are able to predict how you will react to the group at the party, pick a coping skill ahead of time that you can reliably fall back on and engage in sometime throughout the day, evening, or next day as a way of recentering.

This could include going for a walk, calling a friend, journaling, sitting in a favorite chair, going to the mall, retreating to a corner for five minutes of private meditation.

Whatever it is, make sure it is something that can be realistically performed in the setting and is something that you know is effective for for your mental state. 

5. Determine self-expression

This is a toughy. Holidays are wrought with the question: "What are you doing these days?"

Even though this is the most common chit chat question of any family reunion, people often do not rehearse their answer ahead of time.

Do not be like those people.

Answer this question instead: "What do I want to share with everyone about my life right now?"  What are you excited about or proud of? What best describes what you have been doing or working on or exploring?

Your answer will be the arrow in your quiver any time that cousin or aunt walks up to you and awkwardly starts the conversation.

6. Be aware of the exits at all times

Have an exit strategy. I helped a client strategize how to politely excuse herself from the holiday table to walk out of the room and the house, if needed, if the conversation became too stressful, frustrating, or overwhelming.

Do as flight attendants tell you to on an airplane and locate the nearest exit to your seat.

Whether it is for a quick respite, a walk in the fresh air, or a pro-level Irish exit from the party altogether, determine which exit will be most effective for getting you there. 

7. Breathe

Speaking of fresh air, please remember to take deep breaths.

People at holiday parties get overwhelmed, want to retreat, and did not follow suggestion #6 so they panic and forget to breathe. Breathing literally gives you space when you feel like the walls - or your in-laws - are closing in around you.