5 Tips for Surviving Thanksgiving With Your Toxic Relatives

woman in hoodie jacket holding a bowl of fruits

The holidays can be difficult for many people. Sometimes, you have to navigate challenging relatives who seem only to sour your mood when you’re around them. If you must be in the same room with someone you disagree with, playing nice might be the only option. Follow these tips to get through your Thanksgiving celebrations unscathed so you can return to your regular life with peace of mind.

1. Set Boundaries

Some family members may not like it, but you might need to set boundaries to protect your mental health. Even if you don’t confront them directly as you formulate limits, you can tell them during Thanksgiving dinner when you don’t want to talk about something. It might take some finesse to change the conversation topic, but when you advocate for yourself and your well-being, your family will have no choice but to respect it.

2. Make Plans for Afterward

Families typically don’t make Thanksgiving plans that last all night. After your celebration, you might be able to get together with friends or other loved ones you know will calm you down and relax you. Instead of engaging with a toxic family member at the dinner table, you can tell your friends all about them. 

Without friendships, you can start to feel lonely and even experience deteriorating mental health. Stay connected and you might even be able to celebrate a mini “Friendsgiving” with them when you see them. Whether you eat with your buddies or not, you can be sure they’ll help you through any complex emotions you’re feeling.

3. Avoid Substances That Will Worsen Things

You don’t want to make a difficult situation even harder to work with. You’re probably dreading talking to one toxic family member, but that doesn’t mean you should look to substances for help. You might be tempted to turn to alcohol as a way out of uncomfortable situations, but think ahead and consider how it might damage your sobriety streak or take time away from loved ones you don’t get to see often. 

Alcohol always has the potential to make things worse and escalate a tricky situation. Instead of using it to cope with the company at your table, avoid alcoholism altogether by getting another slice of pie or leaving the room to talk to someone else.

4. Don’t Take the Bait

Some individuals might try to bait you into an argument with them. Your main job is to avoid this by any means, as you know the discussion will just make you feel frustrated and hopeless. People often argue to get others to agree with them, regardless of what their point is. They don’t want to feel like they’re alone, so they often want to have an echo chamber. Don’t give them the satisfaction of participating, especially if you know the discussion will be futile.

5. Have an Exit Plan

If all else fails, you must ensure you have a way out of the event. It might be as simple as parking elsewhere to ensure you can leave the host’s home whenever you want rather than waiting for everyone to move their cars. If you’re hosting, consider having a designated end time you’d like everyone out of the house. You can retreat to another space until then. 

An exit plan should be your last resort, but you should still be prepared to have one — if for no other reason than to preserve your mental health.

Stay Strong Through the Holiday Season

The holiday season can be rough on many people, and it can be difficult if you have family members that want to argue and cause problems. You must develop strategies to protect yourself and your mental health, and many of the best involve disengaging with the person presenting a problem. You don’t need to avoid them, but knowing how to get out of a tricky situation might be essential for every family gathering. 

Take time afterward to check in with your emotions — you’ve earned some self-care.

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