Staying sane during the dolidaze

Happy Holidays! Or... not. We all know that drunken family members, awful gifts, living at home again and other holiday "traditions" can overshadow the magic of the season. However, you don't have to write off this time of year entirely. Here are some tips to prepare you for a hectic — but still jolly — holiday break:

Your holiday break will likely be the longest you've been home since leaving for school. One thing you may not realize about heading home: it's going to be weird. You're going to feel like you've matured and grown up a lot since you've been at college, making your own decisions and taking care of yourself. Your parents are still going to see you as a seven-yearold who needs a hand to hold to cross the street. This can cause a lot of stress.

It doesn't matter whether you're in your 30s, 40s, 50s or 60s — if there's a parent around, they will still treat you like a child! It's a built-in nature," said trained professional organizer Heather Burke, owner of the Ottawa-based Smart Space Organizing.

Try talking to your family before you head home to discuss what each of you expects from the holiday, she advised.

And when tensions run high — as they always seem to during the holidays — it's okay to step out for a bit. "Go out to neutral territory," said Burke. Taking some time away from a tense or awkward situation can help diffuse anger and can make for a more peaceful holiday.

Just keep expectations realistic. Rather than focusing on the perfect decorations, the perfect table and the perfect meal, focus on having fun, helping out and spending time together — that's really the reason for the season, isn't it?

It'd be nice to think you're old enough to not get upset when you receive a gift that's less than stellar, but if you're still a pouter when it comes to presents, we say this in the nicest way possible: get over it. It's time to adopt an attitude of gratitude, friends.

"The focus should never be on the gift," said Louise Fox, owner of and So suck it up, say how nice it was that the individual thought of you and deal with it later. Think about it: regardless of how silly the gift may seem, someone actually thought to get you something, so remember your manners.

Maybe you've already met your partner's parents, but it may be time to meet everybody, and that can be overwhelming. Think of it as a job interview. Take steps to brush up on your table manners and get educated about the family you're about to meet. Are there any out-ofbounds topics? What's Aunt Ethel interested in? Who's the troublemaker? The more you know, the less interrogation you'll get because you'll be so busy asking wonderfully insightful questions.

"How you shine is by putting the spotlight on others," said Fox. Still get hit with an intrusive question? Call on your sense of humour and change the topic.

If you want to score some brownie points, remember to bring something for the host of the gathering — extra points if it relates to their interests, but a vase of fl owers will be just as thoughtful.

If some of your Christmases have ended with holes in the wall or tears, you're not alone. There are also those great questions that family members always like to ask around this time of year, such as "When are you going to get a boyfriend/ girlfriend?" and "What are you doing with your life?"

First, get prepared. You know this happens every year, so come up with appropriate but not offensive replies, said Fox. Answers like "Why do you ask?" or "Wouldn't you like to know?" coupled with a cheeky sense of humour can put the other person on the spot.

It doesn't hurt to look at your own attitude too, so check yourself before you wreck yourself. Avoid alcohol if it triggers confrontation, and if all else fails, remember you may have little nieces and nephews looking up to you, so set a good example. You can only control your behaviour, anyway.
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