If you’re here because you’re not looking forward to a family gathering coming up, don’t worry; you’re not alone. Whether it’s because you’re an introvert, socially anxious, not a people person, or you have a deep-seated dislike for family reunions, I promise not to judge you.

Unfortunately, some of these family obligations are unavoidable, and believe me when I say I understand your predicament. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to this, as every family situation is nuanced, but these tips below may help ease the discomfort of interacting with family. Even if they’re not helpful, at least we can sit together to acknowledge our shared problem.

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Before and after family social gatherings, I make sure to have plenty of ‘me’ time. As an introvert, spending time alone refreshes my batteries. It’s very important that I have those moments to myself before and after social events.

Everyone’s self-care may look different, though. If going out for a pre-event or having pre-drinks is what helps you survive family gatherings, then perhaps that’s your form of self-care. Not to the point of going overboard, of course. As always, moderation is key.

Okay, I know, not all family members are pleasant to deal with. Sometimes, we’ll get unsolicited advice, unwelcome remarks about our bodies, and other intrusive questions. It’s unpleasant to hear and can sometimes ruin our entire day.

But we’re not going to let them take away a pleasant day. Time is precious, you know. What they say about you is not a reflection of who you are. If you have the social energy, try a snarky ‘Thank you’ and watch how they react.

Image by Adriyko Podilnyk

If I’m taking too long in the bathroom, I’m not doing a number two; I’m just unwinding. Okay, kidding, I’m not encouraging people to hog up someone’s home bathroom. Although it is a nice place to take a break for a few minutes.

Take a walk outside if there’s a park or even some trees nearby. The smell of fresh air and nature is healing. Pro tip: If you’re friendly and confident with handling the resident dogs, offer to take them for a walk!

Sometimes, as I sit alone in a corner while everyone else seems to be chatting away at a gathering, anxious thoughts start creeping up on me. I’ve learnt to be okay with the silence over the years, and people-watching can actually be quite pleasant.

You’ll start to realise that nobody actually cares if you’re sitting/standing alone or not. Chances are, the people who care are those who are genuinely concerned for you–and these people are usually a pleasure to have conversations with. Here’s some advice that has helped me get through the anxiety: Most times, other people are just as anxious as you are. We all just need to hold space for each other.

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Perhaps you’re obligated to make an appearance at the family gathering, but it’s okay to leave early when you need to. Give yourself an hour or two, and then say your goodbyes and take your leave. You’ll be doing yourself a favour, especially if overstaying will drain you even more.

Is one or two hours not enough for the family? Or perhaps your family home is the host for the night? Here’s plan B. Whip out some board games, traditional games, arts and crafts, or even video games (Overcooked 2 is my favourite), and let the games begin!

Other activity ideas include looking through old photo albums, karaoke sessions, dancing, or drawing out the family tree. By the time the fun has died down, it’ll be time for everyone to leave!