What is it about this time of year that tends to make people crazy?

Instead of celebrating the joys of the season, many of us have turned December into the perfect storm of family conflict, financial stress and shattered expectations.

So if you know this possibility exists — that you might wind up more melancholy than merry, here are some simple ways to stave off the red-and-green blues.

The Subject Is Now… You!

It doesn’t matter who we become in life, the people who knew us “back when” will always think of us that way. For some that’s a huge boon, but for most, during extended holiday visits we just wish our families would see us the way the rest of the world does. If you feel that way, let me help adjust your expectations. THEY NEVER WILL! Understand and accept that, and you will have a much better time visiting with them.

But how do you maintain your sanity when your aunt keeps reminding you that the boy you broke up with in high school is now the CEO of the hottest new tech company and his wife looks just like you? Preparation. Know the enemy and be ready.

When some kinfolk are hell-bent on challenging your enjoyment of this blissful season by bringing up some irrelevant part of your past, quickly change the subject. To them. This is what they’d rather be talking about anyway.

Before leaving home, make a list of who will be there, and memorize three topics that you can divert each one with, if the need arises. It looks something like this:

Family member: “Gosh, why aren’t you writing anymore? I hate to think of you having that awful office job when you used to be so talented.”

You: “Oh, thanks Aunt Pitty-Pat, but I love my new job. Hey, I heard the storms last month really damaged the barn. What are you guys going to do about that?”

Ta-da! You are now no longer talking about your erstwhile writing career. No need to use the phrase, “Let’s change the subject.” Just change it. To something the other person has a lot to talk about. Themselves.

No one will notice and you will get through the entire visit unscathed.

Seasonal Shields Up!

In the event you are unable to change the subject in a timely manner, and are forced to hear unwelcome feedback on the state of your job or love life or waistline, the best way to get through it is to erect an imaginary shield between yourself and the speaker.

Since it’s winter, imagine a wall of ice between your cousin’s fourth husband and you, as he derides your choice of investment vehicles for your retirement. (Hey, I’m with you. Chinchillas will pay off someday.) He will have no idea the barrier is there, but his words will slam against it and slide down, unable to penetrate your cheery mood.

You don’t have to reserve your shields just for attacks against you, either. Any behavior that could potentially cause your lack-of-merry can be easily vanquished with the fabrication of a simple, see-through wall. Is some bitter old aunt complaining about your brother’s kids, who you adore? Did your dad’s wife once again put oysters in the stuffing, knowing that makes it inedible for you? Did a careless, unsupervised child just step on the gingerbread house that you spent hours making from scratch? No problem — say to yourself, “Seasonal shields UP!” and carry on, in festive bliss.

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