Insight Is 20/20

Exploring the pervasive, and unperceived, patterns that govern our lives

Holiday/Family Reunion Tip: Arguments, How to Keep the Peace

Following a few simple steps will keep you from drinking or pill popping.

Most people love to attend a good holiday party, but far fewer men and women yearn to throw their own. The primary reason is simple: Who really wants to deal with the stress? Well, the truth is that entertaining doesn’t have to be so stressful as long as you follow a few basic steps.

Ultimately, holiday parties are one of the few vehicles for true intimacy with friends and family in a manic, mobile-device-centric world. Holiday parties allow you to connect with some individuals you see frequently, and others you only have the chance to connect with once in a while. If you’re throwing a party this holiday season, be nice to yourself and set up a structure for the party that works—not just for your guests, but for you, too! If you’re strageic about setting up your party the right way, you won't have to reach for a glass of wine or pop a Xanax just to get through it.

Tip #1: Set a start and end time for your party.

Of course, the idea of a party always sounds great, but the reality is that parties are exhausting. Not only must you prepare the foods, the house, and the decorations, but you also have to mingle with your guests, to boot. In other words, you need to be on. Knowing that the party has an official end time will reduce the likelihood that you’ll have to keep entertaining into the wee hours when you really—let’s be honest—just want to soak your feet and fall into bed at the end of the night for a two or three days. Plus, setting an end time also prevents guests later in the evening from wondering whether they’re wearing out their welcome.

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Tip #2: Share the work.

Throwing a potluck holiday party is easiest on the host, and also gives others a chance to feel included in putting the party together. But if you don’t want to put that burden on all your guests, simply recruit a few people to bring a main dish and ask that they come to the party 15 to 20 minutes early. Recruit one or two special friends to come a couple hours before the party to help you prepare. Honestly, preparing for a party together is a great chance for good friends to bond before the peanut gallery arrives a little later. If you have an extra $50 or $100, recruit a friend’s teenage son or daughter to work at the party, clearing dishes, replenishing items, and making sure the trash cans are emptied. The key to stress-free holiday entertaining is planning for the help you need in advance.

Tip #3: Plan an activity that engages the group.

It’s always inevitable: the awkward moments when only a few people have arrived, or people who don’t know many others start looking a little bored. Have an activity that your guests can engage in at their leisure throughout the party. You can print out a funny quiz from the Internet, have decks of playing cards available on coffee tables, and keep a couple group-inclusive board games around for guests who want to do something besides simply chat.

Tip #4: Put your perfectionistic tendencies on notice.

Focus on quality social interactions during the party as opposed to making everything perfect etiquette-wise. Too often, hosts get stuck in an anxious state while entertaining to the degree that they often realize they didn't even enjoy themselves once the party's over. Prepare as much in advance for the party as possible so that you can be emotionally present for guests and actually enjoy the intimacy with those you've invited into your home! At the end of the party, people will judge how enjoyable the party was based on how much they got to talk and laugh with the people they like most, not on how seamlessly the party was crafted.

Bottom Line: Holiday parties should be enjoyed by both host and guest. Follow the simple tips above, and you’ll be well on your way to a stress-free holiday season!

Seth Meyers, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health.

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