How To Deal When Your Family Is Ruining Your Time OffMentally (or physically) escape when you need a f*cking minute.
If you find yourself with time off work in the coming weeks, congrats! Good for you for taking a break from the grind. But if your vacation from daily life also means spending a lot of time with your family in lieu of watching the entire Harry Potter series in your underwear, sleeping, or hanging out with your friends, you also have my condolences.
Quality time with family can be nice and all, but you’re not a bad person if you dread the idea of moving back into your childhood bedroom, getting stuck watching hours of football with your dad, and putting up with your chronically politically incorrect in-laws. It’s all enough to make you consider faking a positive Covid test and hiding out until 2024. For a lot of us, time off is hard to come by and our families are…complicated. Sigh.
But even if your PTO involves lots of family gatherings (or a truly immersive, 24/7 experience) you can make it through without hating it (and also feeling guilty that you hate it). With a little strategy from mental health pros who get it, here's how to take a break from family so you can head back to your regular grind feeling (relatively) well-rested. Here’s exactly what to do.
1. Determine a together-time limit.
Maybe you’ve always spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s at your parents’ house and now it’s just assumed that you’ll spend seven nights crammed in that twin-sized bed. But, as a grown adult, you are in charge of your time and where you sleep. You don’t have to spend all of your PTO (or even any of it) with your family if the thought of it makes you want to crawl into a hole until the twinkle lights have reclaimed their spot in the attic.
Think back on holidays past. When did you start to feel out of sorts or like you needed a break? Was it after a few days, a full day, or even an afternoon? Use those ghosts of holidays past to create a holiday schedule that’s best for you, says licensed psychologist Kyler Shumway, PsyD, the chief clinical officer of Deep Eddy Psychotherapy. If you were spent after a few days, make that your I’m out of here landmark. If it was just a few hours, make that your limit.
If you can’t commit to an abbreviated trip, remember that you can leave when together time proves to be a complete trainwreck—assuming logistics allow. Let your crew know that you’re tapped and respectfully flee, Dr. Shumway says. When the loss of your sanity is at stake, do what you must.
2. Set some boundaries.
‘Tis the season for flexing your boundaries—and doing so might just mean the difference between surviving (and even, perhaps, enjoying?) time with family this week and melting into a puddle of misery.
The first boundary to communicate is your together-time limit. If one day is all you have to give, tell your people from the start that you’re excited to spend that day with them! If it’s just an afternoon, something like, “I can’t wait to catch up over lunch! I have to head out afterward, but I’m really looking forward to it,” might work.
Next, if you know a certain family activity or behavior is a hard nope! for you, try to let your peeps know you won’t be engaging in advance, suggests Dr. Shumway. It’ll be less uncomfy than drawing a line in the sand in the moment. Tell your mom that if she (inevitably) starts loudly fantasizing about the grandbabies you owe her, you will leave the room. They might get pissed, but that’s not worth toughing it out for. And remember, saying your boundaries out loud isn’t enough. You owe it to yourself to follow through with the consequences of your boundaries. Plus, if you don’t, they might not take you seriously when you try to lay them out next year.
3. Keep up with some of your usual routines.
Your average day probably involves a routine or rituals that make you feel good, so it’s understandable if your vibe is giving swamp monster after a week. That unrested, kinda gross feeling can make going back to work feel extra miserable, says licensed therapist Erica Turner, LMFT, founder of Rosewater Therapy.
To better take care of you, do what you can to stick somewhat close to your most beloved routines over the holidays—even when you’re on someone else’s turf. It’s not a total break from your people, but it could be enough to make you feel like your time off was just a little more restorative.
Maybe you can’t schlep your spin bike to your parents’ basement or transport your favorite coffee shop to your hometown, but you can take a long walk while listening to your go-to mental health podcast and pack a bag of your favorite coffee beans. It’s like a micro-escape, basically.
4. Build in some breaks.
Even if your family is relatively functional and you actually enjoy being around each other, being up in each other’s faces all. the. time. can be overwhelming. Scheduling in some breaks for solo time can help you avoid unnecessary tension and fatigue, Dr. Shumway and Turner agree.
Whenever you feel depleted/off/annoyed, go for a long walk, catch up on TikTok in your room (yes, full permission to scroll, within reason), go hide at a local bookstore, or give your bestie a call to check in. If you can plan these little moments of you time in advance (read: heading to bed early so you can scroll for a solid hour before bed), even better.
5. Try to show up as your full self.
One of the most soul-sucking things about spending extended time with family is holiday regression, says Turner. Sounds fancy but it’s when you feel like you’ve time-traveled back to your childhood, transforming into a younger version of yourself that’s forgotten all the mental health tricks you learned in therapy or relinquishing the role of responsible adult. That can leave you stuck and feeling unlike your cool, well-adjusted self. That experience can be exhausting, to say the least.
Whether your fam is treating you like a 13-year-old or you’re just in your head about it, do your best to be your current self with your family, suggests Turner. As long as it feels safe to do so, let yourself be seen!
Respond to one of your dad’s classic, “I’m just trying to rile you up,” statements in a less reactive way. Or maybe a simple “Hm, what an odd thing to say out loud," will do. When your parents start bickering, leave the room or tell them to knock it off while you’re around. Be honest about that career change you want to make even if you know they’re not fans.
Doing stuff like that could enable you to leave the holiday madness in a better place than years past, making that PTO feel less wasted on your fam. It’s true, your family may not get you, but being yourself will take way less energy than going back in time.
6. Do your own thing…together.
No family has deep, meaningful conversations 24/7 or spends every day of a holiday break decorating cookies or playing Scrabble. Life is not a Hallmark movie and expecting it to be will just make everyone grumpy.
In addition to the cutesy traditions, embrace doing your own thing in the general proximity of the people you love, suggests Turner. If your dad simply must watch Ancient Aliens all afternoon, pop open your laptop, put on your headphones, and watch a movie on the couch next to him. It still counts as together time—and you get to do what you want.
7. Find meaning in the suffering.
When endless family togetherness isn’t exactly your idea of a good time but you don’t quite have grounds to bail, try to pinpoint one or two ways you can get something from the experience, Dr. Shumway says. You’re not going to totally enjoy it, but it could still be…meaningful?
Consider it an opportunity to work on your conversation starters (or practice those boundaries you’ve been avoiding setting…) or spend time with a family member whose health isn’t great. Focusing on silver linings can make even yet another awkward conversation with Aunt Karen a little more fulfilling
8. Plan for a post-vacay vacay.
No matter what you do, you probably won’t return from time off with family feeling like you just spent a week of bliss in the Bahamas. That’s why it’s almost always a good idea to squeeze an extra day or two to recoup at home before getting back to work, Dr. Shumway and Turner agree.
You can go see that movie you’ve been meaning to check out, sit around eating takeout with your friends, clean out your closet, or lay in bed all day. Just dedicate some time to you so that you restart regular life feeling like 2024 is your oyster, not even more exhausted than you were pre-holidays.
Wondermind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult a qualified health or mental health professional with any questions or concerns about your mental health.