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How To Cope If You're Hosting Relatives Over The Holidays

You'll get through this.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from watching “Christmas Vacation,” it’s that hosting family over the holidays can get festive messy.

Not everyone’s going to get along 24/7, sleeping arrangements can get complicated, and by the end of it all, you’re likely left socially, and probably emotionally, exhausted.

This type of scenario is not uncommon. That’s because inviting people into your home means they’ll be in your personal space, says Amy Syed, a conscious living and wellness expert.

“Your home is your sanctuary and when you bring people into [it], you have to share your personal space and your environment with them,” the Toronto-based expert told HuffPost Canada. As a result, your guests (whether they’re family or not) can get on your nerves.

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But close quarters isn’t the only reason spending extended time with family can be tough. For some people, returning home for the holidays can be triggering.

“Sometimes it transports us back into childhood,” Christina Walton, a marriage and family therapist from Hamilton, told HuffPost Canada.

“Even if you’re 55 years old and you’re a high-functioning adult professional, [family] roles get resumed sometimes when you step back in with those relationships that you grew up with.

“It’s not that they’re always sinister, it’s just that those roles are hard to change. [This] can trigger old fights [or] old pieces of ourselves that we thought we grew out of when we went out into the professional world.”

So how can you keep your sanity when staying in a house full of relatives? Here are some practical ways to cope this holiday season.

Take time out for yourself

Even though the holidays put an emphasis on family, sometimes being surrounded by relatives all the time can get overwhelming, not to mention exhausting. That’s why both Syed and Walton recommend making time to do activities alone. Not only is this good for your mental health, but it’s also a simple way to take care of yourself.

Studies show that there are a ton of benefits to spending time alone. Not only can it help you relax, but it can also boost productivity, spark creativity, and increase your happiness.

For Syed, meditating is the mindful activity that works best for her. Although the wellness expert doesn’t host family over the holidays, she said she often hosts reunions where there could be a total of 15 or 16 kids in the house.

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“I’ll meditate and when I feel more stressed, I meditate even more,” she said. “The other thing I do often is [go into my] bathroom in my master bedroom and literally lock the door to escape everybody. It’s good. It’s like 10, 15 minutes, you take a break and then you go back to the pandemonium that’s around you.”

If meditating isn’t for you, other activities you can do include taking a walk outside, going for a drive, or reading a book. Just choose any activity that will bring you some inner peace for a few quiet moments.

Be honest

Not everyone will understand your need for alone time, especially if you are hosting. The best way to manage this is to just be honest with them. “Being honest is huge so that there are no hurt feelings and there’s no misconstruing what’s really going on,” Syed said.

For example, some relatives might assume you’re avoiding them if you constantly take breaks from family time. But if you verbalize how you’re feeling, you’re setting expectations early.

We feel your pain, fella.
izusek via Getty Images
We feel your pain, fella.

For those who aren’t comfortable telling family that they need time to themselves, Syed recommends “picking the lowest denominator.” By this, she means choosing someone who is the least overwhelming to you and leaving the house with them.

“I’ve got some young kids in my family and so sometimes when I just want a break from the adults, I’ll actually fill the car with the kids and take off somewhere,” Syed said. “That’s an exit strategy that you can take when there are a lot of adults in the house.”

Don’t put pressure on yourself to be the perfect host

If you’re responsible for hosting your relatives, that can bring on a whole new level of stress compared to when you’re just a guest.

“As a host, you have so much to juggle — making sure everyone is comfortable, has enough to eat, has enough to drink, and that they have a great time,” Toronto-based entrepreneur Erin Bury told HuffPost Canada.

Bury and her husband have two sets of divorced parents, and this is the first year the couple will be hosting them all in their Prince Edward County, Ont. home.

“As someone who doesn’t cook, it’s overwhelming to take on hosting duties, but of course, it’s also nice to be in your own home,” the Willful CEO said. To cope with the stress of hosting, whether it’s for the holidays or not, Bury said she makes lists to stay organized and reminds herself that she’s splitting duties with her husband.

“I also always make sure I have some alone time to go to a workout class, read a magazine, or get in a good Netflix binge,” Bury added. “Even better? If my guests also want to binge the same show as me.”

According to Walton, just because you’re hosting doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself. “Let others help in the food prep. Divide the chores,” she said.

But also, “take time for yourself. Schedule that time in and let the guests know that they can help themselves,” she added.

Stay calm when conflict arises

Conflict is inevitable when you put any group of people together in the same home for a prolonged period of time. Whether someone brings up an old argument, or starts talking about a sensitive subject, the best way to deal with these scenarios is to be clear about boundaries.

“Don’t get baited,” Walton said. Instead, “Say, ‘We’re not going to talk about this because we’re going to end up in a fight.’ Set the boundary and stick to it.”

Another great option is to use distraction, both Walton and Syed suggested. If someone brings up something you don’t want to talk about, change the subject. After you change the subject a few times, they should get the message, Syed said.

Don't let disagreements escalate into arguments. If you you sense conflict between relatives, keep your cool.
AntonioGuillem via Getty Images
Don't let disagreements escalate into arguments. If you you sense conflict between relatives, keep your cool.

However, if things escalate and it turns into a conflict, remember to keep your cool. “Calmly tell the person to stop and respect your space, your home, your [partner], your children,” Syed advised. “If someone’s going to come in and cause conflict, you have to reiterate what [your] boundaries are.”

If that doesn’t work, make sure to take regular breaks from family members. Limit your exposure by making sure you have other plans or activities scheduled outside the home, Walton said. But also “keep your expectations in check that [spending time in a house full of relatives] is not going to be perfect and that’s OK.”

There’s no shame in staying at a hotel

Those who are out of town might feel pressured to stay with relatives for the holidays. However, that’s not always a good idea if you’re already stressed just thinking about it.

The reason some people have trouble dealing with family members can vary. There could be relationship issues or historical problems with certain relatives, said Syed. If that’s the case, putting yourself back into a stressful environment like that is “not conducive.”

“I’m a huge believer in staying at a hotel and just visiting on your own time,” said Syed. “Just don’t go [back] into that environment altogether. You can go for dinner, for events, even during the day, but go back to your hotel room when you’re ready and have a place away.”

Walton added that you’re not obligated to host your family either. If it’s going to be too overwhelming for you, it’s OK to say no.

“Look for options, look for other relatives that they can stay with,” the therapist advised. “We all have limits and it’s OK to acknowledge those limits.”

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