If Thanksgiving or other upcoming gatherings of family and friends fill you with even the smallest bit of dread, I offer this little tool to help ease it.

What are you dreading? Or should I ask, “who?”Awkward dinner

There are so many different types of difficult relationships, and I can only imagine the ones that fill you with trepidation. But whatever they are, I want to help you get through Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve or the winter solstice in one piece – and in peace.

Why dread? Why???

If you want to learn a little about where dread comes from, read the rest of this little section. Otherwise, skip down to What To Do.

People who push us out of our comfort zones have the same effect on our brains as hostile tribes did when we were surviving on the savannahs of Africa: fear and resistance. In other words, dread.

In those days, we might have responded by fighting, running away or casting curses. Modern holiday gatherings, however, require us to treat people tactfully, avoid them, or suppress our instincts however we can, e.g. with willpower, alcohol or mashed potatoes.

What To Do

This would have worked on the savannah, too. Look for things you and the other person have in common, or that you admire or appreciate about them. This might take some work, but it will have the same effect on your brain as two tribes realizing they worked better as allies than as enemies. It will calm you down and suggest ways you can collaborate, at least long enough to survive the holiday.

Ideally, look for at least three things you like, admire or appreciate. By the third one, your perspective will begin to shift, you might really begin to see the other person more positively and you should even begin to feel a little better — kinder, gentler — inside.

You might both care about the rain forest, gardening, hiking or football. She might have done something unique, brave, funny, spiritual or creative. He might have a capacity for leadership, humor or prudence that you don’t share but might be able to learn from.

If you really struggle to see something positive, seek ideas from a friend or family member who gets along better with that person than you do.

Try, Love, Repeat

This should work, at least a little bit. Give it a try, see how it goes, and build on any successes you have.

If you have difficult family relationships, you’ve probably tried lots of tools and tactics to get you through the holidays in one piece. I hope this adds a useful tool to your toolkit, and would love to hear if and how it works for you.

Wishing you happy, healthy and strong holidays!