Holiday time means family and friend time, along with high expectations of creating toasty warm memories full of love and laughter. But all that together time can bring some downright uncomfortable situations, which can cause stress, fighting, guilt, self-destructive behavior and hurt feelings.
The good news: Being prepared for awkward situations can help you to either avert them or deal with them constructively.
1. Gifting goofs
You got them something small; they got you something substantial. Oops, how embarrassing!
But why are you embarrassed? Because you're imagining the other person interpreting your smaller gift as a slight, as if a small gift means you don't value them. You, in response, may pull away or even lie to cover up, creating distance from the person who gave you something nicer than you expected.
As usual, honesty is the best policy. Tell them you really appreciate their gift. Then remember that the greatest gift of all is your expression of care and appreciation for having them in your life. Tell them that and it will matter far more than any gift discrepancy.
2. Family tension
Where there is family, there is fighting, competition and sometimes criticism. But hearing during dinner that you should really pass on the potatoes because your behind is too big is upsetting no matter how it was meant.
If something is already brewing with a family member, try to call and clear the air before the holiday. Once you are already together, it's not a great time to work out a problem. In that case, try to limit your exposure to the person, and have a few peace-keeping phrases at the ready: “I can handle myself" or “Let’s move on." Try to have some distractions in place like board games, taking a walk or watching a movie, and make your visit shorter and sweeter than usual.
3. Dealing with a drunk relative
With holidays come festivities and many people drink as part of their celebration. In fact, many drink more than they usually would, especially if they are anxious or uncomfortable about getting together with family or friends.
Make sure to serve food early, before alcohol, so that people are not drinking on an empty stomach. If you see someone overdoing it, stop serving them. If you're hosting, you can say to your imbiber, “As the host, I need to make sure we are all safe to be out and about, so I'm going to stop serving now.”
4. Diet dilemmas
Everyone foists food on you at the holidays, and it can be so awkward when you want to maintain healthy eating, but saying “no” is interpreted as a rejection. For many people, food equals love: They want you to eat their cake because their cake is saying, “I am nurturing you.”
But that doesn’t mean you have to blow your diet. Having a taste so that you can rave about the treat is a way of saying, "Yes, I love you, too!" But then as quickly and covertly as possible, get rid of it. You do not need to gain five pounds this holiday season to make everyone else feel good about their food. You do need to be mindful of the underlying message and use your words, rather than your taste buds, to reciprocate.
Readers, ever found yourself in one of these situations? How did you handle it?
Dr. Gail Saltz is a New York City psychiatrist and a regular TODAY contributor.