Holiday & Travel Planning

“My Extended Family Drives Me Crazy!” How to Guard & Protect Your Holiday Spirit

It’s hard to keep your emotions in check when extended family gatherings go south yet again. Learn how to avoid the holiday spiral with these self-soothing strategies.

Q: “How do I survive being with my extended family over the holiday season with my sanity and emotions intact?”


The Hollywood image of a happy family celebrating the holidays — laughing, eating, and sharing an oversized bowl of popcorn while watching a classic movie — rarely looks like real life. In the real world, extended family members may offer unsolicited advice, pass judgment, and dismiss your needs, which can trigger emotional dysregulation.

Your best bet? Develop a strategy before a family gathering to make difficult relatives more tolerable and maintain your holiday spirit. Consider the following:

Practice self-control. To avoid spiraling when you’re triggered, think about what you can control. For example, is there a place you can go to escape, like outside or into another room?

[Download: Make Mindfulness Work for You]

Phone a friend. Pre-plan to message a friend with a code word that signals you need her help. When she calls or texts in response, you can excuse yourself to listen or respond to the message.

Learn to self-soothe. Develop ways to calm yourself, even in the midst of holiday chaos. Here are some ideas:

  • Create a playlist of your favorite songs on your phone.
  • Add inspirational quotes to your phone that you can easily access and repeat to yourself.
  • Do triangle breathing: Inhale for four counts, hold for four counts, and exhale for six.
  • Silently recite phrases, such as, “May I be happy. May I be peaceful and at ease.”

Protect Your Holiday Spirit: Next Steps


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