Obligatory family get togethers can be stressful. 
Picture: Pxhere

The Christmas family dinner happens to be one of those traditions that stands the test of time. For most of us, it’s more of a test of patience and the equivalent of the Hunger Games - who will be the last man standing?

The same scenario plays itself out every time, resulting in you feeling like a deflated failure or an angry mess.

Everyone has that one aunty that asks about your non-existent love life or the uncle that gets too touchy-feely after two glasses of wine.

Jamie Gruman, professor of Organisational Behaviour at University of Guelph, compares the holiday season to a social allergy. While writing for The Conversation, he noted like seasonal allergies, social allergies are often inescapable. “Triggers include the obligatory get togethers that come with the holidays.

“For many, the season is supposed to be a time to recharge our batteries: recover from the unreasonable deadlines, numerous pressures and other demands we face on a daily basis. Social allergies can interfere with that plan,” he writes.

Taking a time out from family drama is not an option. But there are ways to cushion the anxiety of attending the mandatory Christmas dinner. Durban-based counselling psychologist Rakhi Beekrum explains how to get through it in one piece.

Be prepared

Arriving prepared will make the event a lot smoother for you. Ensure that you are in a pleasant mood. Decide in advance who you will spend most of your time with, and try to pre-empt any difficult topics and situations and have a few prepared responses. Also, ensure that you have an exit strategy if things are too unpleasant for you to handle.

Accept them for who they are

Know that nothing that others do is because of you. Whether it’s a sibling that is always trying to compete, a parent who favours one child over the others, a nosy aunt or an intoxicated uncle. Understand that their behaviour is a reflection of them, not you. More importantly, accept that you cannot change them.

Use humour appropriately

Sometimes the best way to avoid trigger topics is to deflect it with humour. Eg: if you are always asked when you are getting married or having a baby, have a pre-planned joke to laugh off the question.

Decide what topics are off-limits

You may have an uncle with strong political views or a cousin who judges everyone that has different religious beliefs. It is okay to let them know that you’d prefer not to discuss such serious topics at a light-hearted gathering. It’s also okay to remove yourself if they persist despite knowing you are uncomfortable.

Try to understand their behaviour

Whether it’s the uncle who drinks too much, the aunt who compares you to everyone or the sibling who’s always trying to get one up on you - think about why they behave in the ways that they do. You’ll often realise that they have deeper insecurities which are reflected in their behaviour and you will be less likely to be mad at them.

Stay in your bubble

“I always have an imaginary bubble around me which helps me keep negativity out. Only I decide who or what is important enough to permeate through that bubble and get to me.” This is a useful visualisation to prevent you from taking things that family members do personally.

Think about something positive about the person

When someone gets under our skin, it’s natural to see them as all negative. What helps is to try to focus on one positive thing about that person. But once you’ve decided on that one thing, continuously remind yourself of that thing in their presence.