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Thanksgiving is meant to be joyful, but toxic relatives can ruin this holiday. How do you deal?

The risk of having a heart attack goes up during the fall and winter months. Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the festive season for many, but could it also mean you're entering the Danger Zone?

We're not actually going to talk about heart attacks today, beyond this — research has ruled lower temperatures out as a cause of their increased risk and instead blames diet and... stress

Are you looking forward to a joyful meal with your relatives, or are you already dreading the family drama Thanksgiving might bring?

You truly have a reason to give thanks if you fall into the first category. If you have relatives who make you so stressed they could bring on a heart attack, you are not alone. Thankfully, there are some strategies you can employ to keep your cool. 

Don't Engage

Those who are already dreading Thanksgiving and the holidays that follow will have solid reasons to fear the worst — past gatherings will already have been ruined by individual relatives or a nasty dynamic. You might have the sort of relatives you know you would never voluntarily socialize with if they were not related, but you still care about their feelings and opinions precisely because you are family.

Perhaps you are worried that your mother in law will bully you because of your weight, that your cousin will question your parenting choices (yet again!), or that your narcissistic grandfather will either create arguments or want everyone to listen to him and him alone. 

Here's the thing: the past has already informed you that you cannot convince them to see things your way by reasoning with them. 

Defend your choices or point out they're being inappropriate, and you'll create a one-upmanship game that will last the rest of your time together. You won't change your relatives, but you might be able to get out of unpleasant conversations. 

React to unsolicited "helpful advice" by thanking them for it, and perhaps adding you'll consider what they said. Don't reply in hurtful comments, other than perhaps saying that you thought the comments were quite hurtful. Are two other relatives constantly bickering with each other? Do them both a favor by changing the topic.

By letting hurtful, offensive or inappropriate comments slide off you like water slides off a duck's back, you might just deactivate that bomb and have a relatively uneventful holiday. Remember — dysfunctional dynamics took years to grow roots, and one conversation won't change a person's attitude. You can't change someone else's attitude, but you can change how you handle it — make bringing tension down your goal, and you'll have a different holiday. 

Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries in advance will save you a lot of hurt and anger, so just do it. Tell your mom and her new husband that you will stay for dinner but are choosing to head home afterwards. Make it clear to everyone that you really must stick to a gluten-free diet and even traces of gluten will make you sick, so they can come to your house if they want to spend time with you. 

Just say that you'll leave at the first sign of drama, and then follow through.

Often, certain relatives just really don't get along and ruin family holidays for everyone else. Whether you are one of them or it's others, sort the situation out before the actual holiday. Get in touch by phone or email and convince the other person or people to act normally — perhaps for grandma's sake, or so that your kids can play nicely together.

Now is the time to start setting those boundaries. By the time you're all sitting down for your roast turkey, it is too late, so pick up the phone and try. Gently. 

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