The holidays tend to be a difficult time for many people, and “going home” for family gatherings isn’t always easy or comfortable. Every family deals with some level of dysfunction, and family visits can bring up old wounds, throw us back into the bad habits we thought we broke, and trigger us beyond compare.

Despite the dysfunction, pain, and triggers, many of us still choose to attend these family gatherings like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Oftentimes, our goal is simply to survive with as few scrapes as possible, but what if there was a way we could actually thrive at these holiday family gatherings?

Here’s a few tools I recommend to thrive during the holidays…

1 – Bathroom Meditations
You deserve some space and time to yourself. However, full house or not, escaping family can be difficult. It’s often too cold or wet to go for a walk outside. If it somehow turns out to be warm and sunny, suddenly everyone wants to go on that walk with you.

Do you know where people don’t want to go with you? The bathroom.

Keep your headphones and phone in your back pocket and excuse yourself to the restroom. Tada! Welcome to a few minutes of peace and quiet.

Use this time to clear space in your head through guided meditation. A great, free app that I use is called the Insight Timer.

If meditation isn’t your thing, you can also just have a dance party to shake off all the negativity you picked up.

Remember to make sure you flush the toilet, even if you didn’t actually use it. After all, your family did assume you were going to the bathroom to… uh… relieve yourself, not escape them. Why break the façade?

2 – Puppy Love
Have a dog? Bring him with you! Scientific studies show that owning (or being around) a dog can help decrease depression, anxiety, and stress. Just petting a dog can decrease blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension that is likely heightened due to holiday s tress.

Playing with a dog gives you a great distraction from any family drama, and allows you to get outside into nature for regular potty breaks.

Plus, where there is a cute puppy for the family to focus on, it takes some of the “heat” off of you. I mean, how can your relative complain about how you’re not doing “enough” with your life when there’s an irresistible puppy begging to be played with at her feet?

Need Some More Tools?

I see you! You’re determined to make this holiday season the best one on record – no matter which family members (mostly unintentionally) steal your joy. Grab my full toolkit so you can absolutely THRIVE at holiday family gatherings.

3 – Badass Boundaries
There’s plenty of talk about setting boundaries. Sometimes we set them, but how often do we actually maintain them, especially during the holidays?

It’s time for you to set some real boundaries and stick to them.

Here’s some questions to kick off the boundary setting…

  • What topics are off-limits? (Hint: these are going to be the topics that end up with fighting or leave you feeling shame or guilt.)
  • How LONG do you actually want to spend with [insert group of people]? Time is the one thing you can’t get back. Only YOU get to decide how you spend it.
  • How much money feels good for you to spend on your family, taking your budget and your personal desires into account?

4 – Basic Breathing
If family is even slightly stressful for you, you probably spend a lot of “family time” on guard and in fight-or-flight mode. When we’re in fight-or-flight mentality, our breathing gets shorter and shallower, keeping us in this mode. This keeps your cortisol levels high, leaving you feeling stressed, anxious, and fearful.

In fight-or-flight mode, our prefrontal cortex doesn’t work the way that it should. As a result, we struggle to make great decisions – which keeps us stuck in this fight-or-flight mode.

When you’re “just hanging out” with family, practicing breathing techniques that will help you get out of FF mode. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold it for 7 seconds, breathe out for 8 seconds.

Another option is to breathe in for 4 seconds, hold it for 4 seconds, and release it for 4 seconds.

5 – Scientific Observation
Your internal reality will manifest externally. How people engage with one another is just the tip of the iceberg of what’s really going on beneath the surface. If you’ve made it this far into this blog post, you probably know at least a little bit of psychology basics.

What if you just sat back and observed what was going on, choosing to look beneath the surface and into what each person is likely thinking and feeling, based upon their reactions?

What if you didn’t give into the crazy and just watch and see how the dysfunction has influenced you? Just being aware of family influences and patterns can give you a deeper understanding into your own life and help you take more control of it.

6 – Self Heal
You’re probably going to get triggered, even if you try your darndest not to. Triggers just show you the places where you have the opportunity get more love into and heal. If you’re going to get triggered, why not use the opportunity to heal the part of you that first got hurt?

What would you add to this list? Got any good tricks up your sleeve?