This can be one of the most wonderful, and yet the most stressful, times of year. We love the beautiful decorations and yummy treats, but can get frazzled trying to get everything ready. We reconnect with people we may not see very often, but some of them are people we’d rather not see, like the relative who drives you up the wall. Just biting your tongue to avoid a blowup is stressful.

I offer a few quick tips for handling yourself and others.

  1. Meditate every day, starting now. Don’t wait until Aunt Myrtle arrives and announces that she couldn’t find a pet sitter, so she brought her four cats with her. Regular meditation is like regular physical workouts. When you build up your muscles, they can better protect you in the event of a fall. When you meditate regularly, you build up mental, spiritual and emotional muscle that helps you keep calm and think straight when others throw you a curve.
  2. Remove terms like “have to,” “must” and “need” from your vocabulary, including your head talk. As I explained in Bridges to Consensus, such terms actually weaken us physically.[1] Replace them with more positive language. For example, if you find yourself thinking or saying, “I’ve got to get the turkey today,” change that to “I want to get the turkey today.”

What if you don’t want to do the thing you’re telling yourself you have to do? You might say, “I plan to get the turkey today.”

Also, you can challenge those have-to statements. Do you really have to get the turkey, or could another member of your household get it?

  1. Plan ahead. You know that Uncle Jasper loves to lean on the kitchen counter and talk into a coma. He gets in your way and distracts you. You stress out just remembering how, last year, this caused you to drop a pumpkin pie as you were putting it in the oven. You had to clean up the mess, go to the grocery for more ingredients, then start all over again on another pie.

First, challenge that “had to.” You could have asked Uncle Jasper to clean up the mess. You could have phoned your cousin and asked him to pick up a bakery pie on his way to dinner. You could have decided to forget about pumpkin pie and serve the cookies your neighbor gave you for dessert.

Now, plan ahead. Assign other relatives the job of engaging Uncle Jasper in conversation or activities outside of the kitchen.

Make a backup plan for how you will use your enlightened communication and persuasion skills if Uncle Jasper still gets under your elbows. “Uncle, I really look forward to having a quality conversation with you. Just now, I can’t really take in what you’re saying, nor can I give proper attention to this pie. Would you do me a favor and take the little ones outside to burn off some of their energy? After dinner, you and I will sit down together and have a nice long catch up.”

  1. Take Time Out before Confronting Someone. Suppose you get to the Enough! point. You feel a tirade battering on the roof of your mouth trying to escape. It may well be time to set some boundaries, but setting them with a tirade is the least likely to leave you feeling good afterward and the least likely to set the boundary while saving the relationship.

As part of your planning at Step 3 above, plan a safe haven where you can go to calm down, get your rational mind back in control and think about how to use your best persuasive communication skills to set the boundary. You might arrange with a neighbor to slip next door “to borrow something” if you need to get away from your home turf for awhile.

In your haven, assess your interests. Why do you want to set the boundary? What has held you back until now? Which is more important? Is it better to confront Aunt Myrtle now, or wait for a calmer moment? And how will you express yourself?

Taking time out might make the difference between, “Get those nasty hellcats out of here or I’ll call animal control!” on the one hand, and “Auntie, I can’t cope with all these people and the cats. Here’s the address of a vet who can board them for you while you’re staying here. Or if you feel you need to stay with them at night, here’s a nearby hotel that allows pets,” on the other hand.

Myrtle might get angry no matter what, but the latter way of setting the boundary stands a better chance of maintaining a relationship, while leaving you feeling like a class act, rather than a screaming banshee. You will know that you did your best to accommodate Myrtle to the extent consistent with taking care of yourself.

Many of you have your own tips and techniques for negotiating the holidays. Or you have examples of other situations that can occur. I’d love to see some of them in comments, and I bet other readers would like them as well.

[1] p. 38-9