It’s that time of the year again when my inbox and DMs fill up with people stressing about how to deal with family obligations and expectations during the festive season. There are three things that can keep you out of a lot of trouble and manage your anxiety levels:

#1 What do you want to do, and what do you feel obliged to do?

The gap between desire and obligation is where tension, frustration, anxiety and resentment reside. Get honest because then you can figure out your next course of action and operate from a more authentic place. When you make choices from an autonomous instead of compliant place, you won’t do you or your relationships harm. Check out my podcast episode on four steps to assertively communicating what you do or don’t want to do.

#2 Make plans in the sweet spot of your relationship

The biggest trap that people fall into with family is living in La La Land and ignoring the data of experience. If you know that the optimal amount of time to spend with your family is a few hours or a day or a couple of days (or whatever) before it turns into handbags at dawn, you don’t agree to a week! If you know Uncle Tom always likes to go toe to toe on super awkward or tense conversations, don’t have them. This is not going to be the occasion when your family spontaneously combust into The Brady Bunch! Work out the sweet spot of your relationship, whether it’s the amount of time spent together or how you spend your time together and stick to it. And if you know the warning signals of when drama’s about to kick off, have your exit strategy ready. Check out this episode on family estrangement for more on ‘sweet spots’.

#3 Communicate clearly and upfront. Don’t leave it to the last minute!

Look, I get it. I sometimes have to psych myself up for making those awkward calls. It’s not easy letting people down or trying to rein in what might be their runaway train expectations. You might be nervous about being railroaded into something or getting into trouble. Suddenly, you’re not forty-four any more and feel like you’re ten! Still, communicate your intentions and plans as soon as possible. If you keep putting it off, next thing it will be the hella awkward last minute. And then you’re going to feel too bad about being honest and force you into something, or you’re going to piss them off due to them feeling messed around. Even though it might not sound like it at the time, most humans like to know where they stand. It’s OK for them to feel disappointed, after all, they’re only human. Let them have their feelings without making you responsible for fixing them or shaming yourself about being a ‘bad’ person.

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