While some greet the holidays with excitement and cheer, the reality is that this time of year isn't easy for everyone. "The holidays are fraught with expectation for getting along with family and having a good time," explains Jane Greer, New York–based relationship expert and author of What About Me? That's one of the reasons family gatherings and celebrations can be so stressful. "Often there are unresolved grudges and resentments that can get triggered during this season," she continues.
If you know that spending time with your family over the holidays often comes with added conflict and stress, don't panic. There are ways to prepare yourself and deal with potentially uncomfortable situations when they arise. Greer recommends anticipating the questions your family members might ask and practicing answers that feel comfortable and convey how you really feel. This way you won't be blindsided at the dinner table with an awkward inquiry about your relationship status or career. "The goal is to not get defensive or feel like you have to explain yourself," she says.
Ahead, Greer offers polite responses you can use to answer a few common questions that arise at gatherings over the holidays (plus, shop the self-care essentials you'll need to get you through the season). Consider this your holiday stress survival guide.
Are you still single?
The response: "You can be sure I'll let you know if and when my status changes."
Why it works: This response allows you to take control of the conversation and show that you don't need to be asked this question again, according to Greer. This way it's clear that you're in charge of sharing new information.
Why didn't you bring your significant other?
The response: "They'll be joining us at another occasion."
Why it works: Greer explains that this way you're letting them know they'll meet your partner at another time. You can keep it vague without really explaining why.
Are you thinking about having kids any time soon?
The response: "That's a great question we're considering together."
Why it works: You don't have to explain the details of your family planning if you don't want to.
Have you gotten a promotion yet?
The response: "It's in the works!"
Why it works: This response allows you to avoid getting caught up in someone else's opinions or judgment. "You're avoiding any accountability in terms of when this will happen," Greer says.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
The response: "Enjoying my life and doing what makes me happy."
Why it works: You're declaring that your life is about feeling good and being happy, Greer explains. It's okay to be vague about specific goals that might not be any of their business.
When are you going to move out of your small apartment and into a house?
The response: "When [I/we] feel ready to make that change."
Why it works: This shows that this is an aspect of your life you're responsible for, and that you'll make the decision when you're ready.
What do you think of the president's views on X?
The response: "You know what? Talking politics is something I avoid socially."
Why it works: It creates boundaries and explains what you're comfortable discussing. It also helps sidestep potential arguments, Greer points out.
Have you lost/gained weight?
The response: "I don't really look that closely; I can't answer that."
Why it works: "This is an intrusive question, asking about your body," Greer states. By saying that you're not focused on this topic right now, it shows that they don't need to be either.
Should you be drinking?
The response: "Absolutely!"
Why it works: This response allows you to be clear about your intention to enjoy yourself and take responsibility for how much you drink.
Why don't you come home more often?
The response: "I would love to be able to do that. I come when I can at this point."
Why it works: "You're acknowledging the wish that you could visit more often, but rather than getting caught up in guilt, the reality is you just cannot right now," Greer says.
Take Greer's advice for a stress-free holiday, and if that's still not enough, stock up on self-care essentials below.