13 ways to survive Thanksgiving: Tips for how to deal with family, stress, and the seating arrangements

Nikita Wozniak ‘20, Circulation Manager

Thanksgiving: a time of giving thanks, stuffing ourselves with way too much food, and most importantly, coming together to spend time with our family. This holiday brings joy to many people throughout the United States; however, there are some downsides. The most common ones being upsetting, rude, and chaotic family members or the overwhelming and uncomfortable situations thrown our way. Here are 13 tips on how to survive this Thanksgiving.

1 – Deal with the family members that drive you crazy

Some family members, even if you love them, can sometimes  get on your nerves after a while. Sadly, the holidays are the most common time for all those nerves to build up and boil over. Slowing down and relaxing during a stressful situation makes you look like the bigger person, and it prevents more tension being added. Remind yourself that you will not be dealing with them for long, and if things get a little heated, disengage to  collect your thoughts. Do your best to give everyone equal attention; you may learn something new and important about that person! Overall, try to make sure to try and start off the holidays with a clear head and calm attitude; it will help you to remain at ease if problems arise. 

2 – Volunteer to make seating arrangements

This one is pretty self explanatory, but it is still very important. We all have those way-too-energetic and overstepping family members we are forced to deal with every year. The worst thing is when you are involuntarily placed next to them at the table for more than an hour as you try to eat. To make life easier for you and for them, volunteer to make a seating arrangement that benefits everyone. It will give somebody else a chance to hear crazy Aunt Patty’s stories for a change, and you will be able to eat without having to awkwardly nod along the entire time. 

3 – Be a courteous guest

No matter how much you love your family and friends, things can get stressful when you are in such close quarters. It may be up to you to be the perfect 21st Century guest, showing everyone who you are and what you represent. Try to communicate with your hosts and other guests, clean up after yourself, and do your best to help anyone with whatever you can.  

4 – Build a support system

Having a friend or partner you can step outside to call, text, or FaceTime can make a huge difference. A partner to vent to or someone who understands your situation can offer you a safe haven, if only for a few minutes. 

5 – Be mindful of the technology use

With so many people asking questions and making noise, it can be hard to hear yourself think. So when you finally have time to breathe, you might take out your phone. Whether it is to check up on friends or to listen to music and calm down, any form of technology may be frowned upon during the holidays. While some phone use is sometimes necessary, excessive use can either start an argument or create some awkward conversations. Do your best to limit the technology and spend as much time as you can with your family! It will make everyone think you are including yourself in the festivities, and you will prevent a lot of possible conflict.

6 – Bring something to do

When in doubt, bring something to keep yourself busy. Although being on your phone and playing a game or scrolling through Instagram sounds perfect, you will most definitely be ridiculed for “ignoring” everyone. The best thing to do is to bring something else you enjoy doing. Whether it be things like catching up on a book, knitting, sewing, coloring, writing, or playing an instrument are completely acceptable and sometimes even encouraged. These are calm and simple practices to use as a coping mechanism while everyone goes to battle after dinner.

7 – Practice mindfulness

When a family member says something upsetting, blowing up at them or snapping back with a passive-aggressive comeback will not make anything better. Even if what you say or do is the right thing, not everyone will take it that way. To try to keep your cool, try practicing mindfulness. Excuse yourself when you can and find an empty room to escape to for a moment until you have collected yourself. A holiday dinner is probably not the time to tell the family member that what they said was hurtful, but trying to bite your tongue and keep your anger bottled up is not going to make you feel much better either. So, after you have cleared your mind, you can write down what it is that they said, and how it made you feel. Put it in your pocket and save it for a later conversation.

8 – Keep political conversations civil

If every member of your extended family has the same political beliefs, or similar for the most part, consider yourself lucky. For others, the holidays can be particularly tense, especially during an election year. The topic of politics is always inevitably brought up. The only thing you can do is make sure you know your stuff, stay as calm and rational as you can, and do whatever is possible to keep the conversations under control, including changing the subject if you have to. The last thing you want is a lovely evening turning into a rude sparring match between family members.

9 – Plan responses in advance

No matter what age, intrusive questions about your personal life from your family about why you are single, what your grades are, if you have gained weight, lost weight, or anything in between, will likely pop up. Your family will ask you intrusive questions no matter what has happened to you this year, even if it really is nobody’s business but own. Preparing some reasonable and calm responses can help prevent the anxiety of answering so many questions. White lies can even come in handy during this time. Just do not dig yourself into a hole without a plan of getting back out.

10 – Escape when you can

You cannot always keep up a calm façade, especially if your family is very overbearing and intrusive. If you do not feel comfortable or safe, you are not obligated to stay anywhere you do not want to. Holidays are supposed to make you feel good, too. If you are being belittled or hurt, whether it be physically or verbally, the best thing to do is to get out of the situation. Whether it be taking a walk, calling a friend, or just going to a room and taking a deep breath, get out of the situation. Once you feel that you are safe or that things have calmed down, you can regroup with your family if you want to. Do not put yourself in danger or uncomfortable situations just for the fact that you are related. 

11 – Take the high road

Doing this includes changing the subject before a fight breaks out, suggesting a group activity that will keep everyone busy, and offering to help in the kitchen. If you practice your reactions and responses to the different scenarios you are dreading in your head, you are more apt to be able to take them on when they actually happen. Be the bigger person, and try your best to just get through the holidays without losing your cool, even if it is severely needed.

12 – Throw guilt out the window

Every year during the holidays, there is at least one bad thing that happens. Whether it be a fight between you and someone, a fight between other people, or something hurtful slipping out of someone’s mouth, there is no way of avoiding the pain or sting of somebody’s words. It is okay to defend yourself or others, but it might escalate or get too far. The best thing to do is to try and diffuse any situation of the sort, and worry about tying up loose ends after the holidays are over. Remind yourself and others to put everything aside for just one day, and worry about any major issues together as a group instead of picking sides. There is always another time for arguing with someone and resolving a problem.

13 – After everyone leaves, reward yourself

Once everybody leaves, find the best seat in the house and give yourself credit for trying to make a difference. It takes a lot of time and energy to help make a holiday run smoothly, especially if you are part of a dysfunctional family. Any action towards making the holidays actually something to look forward to is something to be thankful for. You got this!


Photo courtesy of Lodging magazine

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s